Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The “Sacrament” of Sharing the Bread and the Cup

I wrote the following  for  The Dialogue, the newsletter of the church where I serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, MO.

            Yesterday, I visited one of our older members at home and we shared communion together.  Charles Wilcox has not been in Sunday Worship at First Christian in the five years I’ve been here due to painful back problems, but I’m willing to give him a break since he’s 94 years old and has literally been coming to FCC since he was born.  Those who have come to First Christian in recent years may not know Charles, but he was a vital part of the church and its ministries for many decades—teaching youth Sunday School, serving on the Administrative Board and even serving as the church attorney pro bono.
            As we shared the bread and the cup together, Charles shared his memories of the church.  His parents were members when the church moved from its building at 10th and Edmond Streets and built its current building in 1918.  He remembers C.M. Chilton (FCC pastor from 1898-1944) and how the church threw him a birthday party and gave its pastor a new putter.  He has watched children grow up in the church and move away, some never to return and others who eventually settled back in St. Joseph.  His memories of the history of FCC are a treasure and I, as the current minister at FCC, was honored to hear them.  The bread and cup we shared together was only the latest in many hundreds of times Charles has taken communion at FCC.  Through the bread and cup, we were “in communion” with all those who had gone before at First Christian Church of St. Joseph.
            When I returned home from visiting Charles, I had the small wooden communion box with me which contained the grape juice and the leftover communion bread from Sunday.  My sons, Julian (8) and Jameson (5), clambered around it.  They knew what it was and since they were home sick Sunday, they demanded that they take communion then and there.  Even Jameson who has trouble speaking urged me to “say the prayer about the blood.”  So, in my kitchen, I took communion with my sons and as I said the words of institution, Julian joined in to echo my words said each Sunday about Jesus giving us new chances with God.  As we sipped our Welch’s grape juice and pinched off pieces of bread, I experienced a different kind of grace with yet another new generation of FCC members.  Like many parents before me, I shared communion with my children thanks to this church and marveled at the mystery of God’s love that unites us.
            Whether in living rooms of homebound, at a kitchen counter with children or in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, we share a wonderful and mysterious grace with one another and with God.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we commune with those who have gone before us, those who are currently present with us and those who come after us.  This simple act of bread and cup exists somehow beyond the limits of time and space.  It is a wonderful mystery.
            At its most basic definition, a sacrament is a means for humans to experience God’s grace.  Different denominations hold to different definitions of what constitutes a sacrament and different rules regarding whom may partake of them, yet from their beginning Disciples of Christ—who were not very firm on many things when it came to belief and practice—were firmly committed to the idea that ordinary bread and ordinary wine or grape juice had great spiritual significance. 
Although different Disciples churches hold to different standards today regarding just how open their open communion is, I have always insisted when I am at the communion table that our communion is really, really open.  Our denomination was founded in large part as a reaction againstthe restrictions placed upon communion by other churches; keeping to that principle, I firmly believe that the opportunity to experience God’s grace via the bread and the cup is not limited by our beliefs or lack thereof, but rather by the breadth and depth of God’s grace—which is to say, it has no limit.  I often remark at the communion table “Whatever your faith or whatever your doubts, you are welcome at this table, because it is Jesus who has invited you and we will not get between you and Jesus.”  The wonderful mystery of God’s grace that unfolds in the sharing of bread and cup is not limited by place or time.  Likewise it is not limited by the divisions we human beings make between one another.
            We do not believe that the bread, wine and grape juice we share in communion is anything other than the ordinary stuff we buy at a store.  Likewise we do not believe that the life-giving salvation of God is dependent upon how often we take communion on Sundays.  Yet, at the same time, we profess to experience the mystery of God’s grace in these ordinary things however often or rarely we choose to partake of them.  How strange that ordinary bread and juice can capture the imagination of a 94 year-old man at home, two boys in their own kitchen or an entire congregation on Sunday morning!  Thanks be to God!
            Grace and Peace,

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