No One Eats Alone

by New Church Starts

by Philip Brooks Path 1 NCS Assistant

I’ve shared communion in a number of places. Beside various church sanctuaries, I’ve been offered the elements on campuses, retreat lodges, in someone’s home, in the middle of the woods, on a boat dock, and on a boat on the water. It’s been under a number of different situations too: a weekly service, a Bible study, the end of week at camp, on a group retreat, at a wedding, at a funeral, right before a youth lock-in, etc. It’s pretty amazing where we can find the Lord’s Table set for us in our journeys. There are so many occasions to practice communion, but no matter where we find it what we know and trust is that somehow we are all still eating the same meal, all coming to the same table, and all invited by the same Jesus. None of us eats alone.

We tell our planters it’s important for a new church to take communion frequently, but this is somewhat misleading because it’s equally important for any church (old or new) to take communion. Communion is one of those things that make a church a church. The reasons for practicing are numerous. First, we’re called to do it in remembrance of Christ. It’s an important reminder of why we come together as a faith community. It’s also a means of grace, meaning that it invites the Holy Spirit to bestow mercy and assurance on us to help us endure and grow in our faith.

Communion is also an expression of the love that exists within the church. In the early days of the church all members who had any personal grievances with each other were ordered to resolve them before the Eucharist because by taking the elements you were acknowledging each other as part of Body of Christ united in love. If we think of communion as something we line up to receive like customers at the DMV, we’re missing the point. No one takes communion alone in our denomination. You are always offered the elements by someone else. It’s something we have to share with one another because we’re not receiving the Body of Christ unless we are acting as the Body of Christ, working together and caring for one another as part of same whole. No one eats at God’s table alone.

This is where communion has a special role to play in new churches since being a new church means creating a community where none existed before (no easy task). Communion at its best should help new members see themselves as brethren rather than casual associates. Its meaning should also extend beyond the practice itself. It’s a lovely thought to say on Sunday morning that all are invited to the table, but it’s another thing to practice it all the time. A church is truly sacramental when it’s willing to share its bread and bounty with everyone, welcomes all into its doors without a second thought or judgment, and doesn’t let grievances break its fellowship. In other words churches should live at the foot of God’s Table.

Communion doesn’t just make a church a church, however. Communion also makes a church part of The Church. This is one of the many miracles of the sacrament I’ve always appreciated. We’re not taking it as members of this congregation, or even as United Methodists. We’re taken it as part of Christ’s one body in union with all other parts. The Table where we sit is one set for Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, etc. It’s also one set for all nations and peoples. Here is the miracle where this congregation or that congregation is reminded that it is part of something far greater than itself. As new churches find themselves and their place within the region, the conference, and the denomination, it is so important that they also see themselves as part of Christ’s eternal body united with others in a mission that extends far beyond their walls. No congregation eats alone.

How does the spirit and intention of communion play out in the mission and activities of your church? What do you think it means for a church to be “sacramental”?