“Where’s the bread and juice?” Those were the first words out of his mouth upon entering the room where we hold Children’s Church every Sunday morning. Immediately, several other kids chimed in, asking, “Yeah, are we doing that today?” While it was hard for me to say to them, “No, we aren’t having Communion today,” the following chorus of “why nots” was like music to my ears. I told them that there was no good reason why we weren’t having it that day, other than the fact that the church as a whole had gotten used to having Communion just once a month. I then asked them if they would like to have Communion every week, and the exclamations over that prospect filled the room with excitement! Then and there, I promised them that we would share Communion together every week.
Sharing at the Lord’s Table is something that we should do as often as we are able. For centuries, sharing in Holy Communion was the central act of communal worship that many of us have lost sight of today. Today, many churches tend to share Holy Communion once a month, once a quarter, or for some, even just once a year. That practice in the Methodist tradition did not grow out of any kind of theological foundation, but instead stemmed from a purely logistical issue. In the early days of Methodism in our country, there were not very many pastors to go around, and so they rode circuits, sometimes only getting to each of their churches once every quarter. Because pastors were the only ones who had the authority to preside over the Communion table, these churches only shared in Holy Communion several times a year. They still shared it as often as they were able, given their circumstances. However, as the church grew and spread and more pastors were able to be stationed at one or two churches, the practice of infrequent Communion remained the same, and people started trying to create a theology for why that was. Part of the reasoning was the shift to emphasize the sermon as the most important part of worship. Another reason is one many of us have heard or perhaps felt ourselves: if we come to the Table too much, it will lose its meaning or its specialness.
The kids in Children’s Church have shared in Communion each Sunday of this past month, and their joy and excitement each time is a testimony to the wonder and grace we find at the Table no matter how often we come to it. Do I think they all comprehend what we are doing when we share together? Absolutely not. Do I think some of them simply like the taste of the bread and juice? Sure. But we understand the Lord’s Table to be a place of grace. We don’t need to understand it to come to it. When we share in the meal, it is a means of grace. In other words, it is a special way that Jesus makes himself known to us, and that God’s grace works through it in our lives in ways we can’t always see or understand. The bread and the cup are not just empty tokens of remembrance. They are signs that actually offer us grace, that are actually being used by God to nourish us, strengthen us, and change our hearts. Why should we ever say, “We don’t want to do it too much because we don’t want it to lose its meaning”? Instead, we should be crying out for as much of God’s grace that we can grasp!
This past Sunday, as the kids passed and shared the bread and cup, one of them whispered to me, “This is my favorite part. It’s so sweet and good.” There are no truer words that could have been spoken.
To learn more about a United Methodist theology of Communion, check out the following resources:
The Duty of Constant Communion, Sermon by John Wesley