By Mike Clemmer
Recently, I had an intriguing conversation about communion with a friend who worships at a local Catholic parish. He described his weekly experience of partaking the Holy Eucharist as being “a powerful, mysterious, holy event that brings [him] into the very presence of God – and therefore, something [he] needs to experience every week.” As I quietly reflected on my own experience at the Lord’s Table, somehow I felt as if I was missing something very important in my faith. In fact, his statement challenged me to think more intentionally about my own thoughts about communion.
Indeed, my theology as it relates to communion differs from my Catholic friend. For him, the Eucharist is a sacrament, the very embodiment of Jesus, and the invitation for him to experience the presence of Christ. For me, it is a sign through which we as believers remember the new covenant established by Jesus through his death and resurrection as well as a recommitment to one another in the church. His belief seems to highlight the individual’s experience while mine emphasizes the community’s witness of togetherness. After reflecting on these differences, I wonder if there are not several important things for me to learn from my Catholic friend.
One thing to learn is the importance of intentionally putting ourselves in holy places where we can simply be in God’s presence more often. I believe that the Lord’s Table is one of these holy places because as our Confession of Faith states, “When Christians eat the bread and drink the cup, they experience Christ’s presence in their midst.” God’s Spirit works mightily when we are in God’s presence. Yet, as I surveyed churches in our Franconia and Eastern District Conferences, I found that most practice Communion less than 4 times a year and even those with the most frequency only come to the table once a month. I wonder, how often we should be placing ourselves into the holy place of Communion?
Another thing (which perhaps is more of a reminder than a new learning) is that through Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we practice community at its very core. All are welcome at the table. There is not a place of special prestige or honor, nor is there any room for exclusion. We all eat the same bread and drink from the same cup. Despite our disagreements and differences, the community still is called together to serve and minister through the strength of the meal shared together. When my friend shared with me his experience with the Holy Eucharist, he reminded me that the practice of community through Communion is one of the greatest witnesses that we have in the world today.
And finally, in many ways, we need to allow for the mystery of God to shape us, move us, and call us to a closer relationship with Jesus. Our faith is not something that can be figured out. In fact, the way God works is rarely the way I think God should work. And so, through God’s mystery, Communion is very personal and individual. One of the pastors that I spoke to about Communion described the mystery of experiencing God’s presence when he shared Communion at the bedside of a person at life’s end. He could not put words on what happened in that holy place, but God’s presence had a profound effect on him and all that were in the room. Thanks to my friend’s sharing, I find myself in a place of holy longing to experience God’s mystery in my life in a new way – and I can’t wait until the next time that I can share Communion with my other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Mike Clemmer is Lead Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church, and a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.