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Friday, July 28, 2017

Basics of Faith 6 - Sacraments 2 - Communion

Sacraments 2 - Communion

Basics of Faith 6 – July 30, 2017
 A Sermon by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald

Texts read on July 30:  Psalm 122;  1 Corinthians 10:15-17; Matthew 15:29-39

In this forward to the sermon, I have included the outline of the Communion Prayer used in the Worship Service of July 30 where this sermon was delivered.  The Communion Service has each section titled so people cabfollow the format as the Prayers of the Table are Spoken.

Outline and notes for the Prayers of the Table [i]

  • ·        Call to Give Thanks     Sursum Corda
  • ·        Thanksgiving     Preface
  • ·        Song of Creation     Sanctus-Benedictus
  • ·        Remembering Jesus at Table    Institution Narrative
  • ·        Prayer of Self-Giving    Anamnesis-Oblation
  • ·        Affirmation of Memory and Hope     Memorial Acclamation
  • ·        Prayer for Transformation     Epiclesis
  • ·        Remembering the Community     Intercessions (optional if not elsewhere in the Service)
  • ·        Concluding Praise     Doxology
  • ·        Amen
  • ·        Prayer of Jesus    The Lord’s Prayer

The Service of the Table (or Communion Service) usually begins with an Invitation followed by the Communion Prayer.
The prayer may begin with a Call to Give Thanks (Sursum Corda) or opening dialogue.

The body of the prayer opens with the Thanksgiving (Preface), offering thankful praise to God; some or all of the following thanksgivings may be included:
  • ·        for God’s work in creation and in covenant history;
  • ·        for the witness of the prophets;
  • ·        for God’s steadfast love, even when people turn away;
  • ·        for the gift of Christ;
  • ·        for the immediate occasion or festival;
  • ·        for contemporary causes for thanksgiving.

Next The Song of Creation (Sanctus and Benedictus) may be spoken or sung; musical settings are found in VU 932-944.

  • The prayer continues with a thankful remembering of the acts of Jesus, the Christ, such as:
  • ·        Christ’s birth, life, and ministry;
  • ·        Christ’s healing, teaching, and gifts of wholeness and life;
  • ·        Christ’s death and resurrection;
  • ·        Christ’s presence and the promise of his coming again;
  • ·        the gift of the sacrament of Communion
  • ·        (including Remembering Jesus at Table (Institution Narrative), if not used elsewhere).

Prayer of Self-Giving (Anamnesis-Oblation) offers ourselves and our lives in faithful remembrance of Jesus’ self-giving and provides a transition from Remembering Jesus at Table to the Affirmation of Memory and Hope.

A communal Affirmation of Memory and Hope (Memorial Acclamation) may be said or sung. Music settings may be found at VU 932-944.

The prayer continues with a Prayer for Transformation (Epiclesis) by calling upon the Holy Spirit:
  • ·        to bring all who share in the feast into Christ’s presence;
  • ·        to make breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup participation in the body and blood of Christ;
  • ·        to make us one with the risen Christ, with all God’s people, and with the communion of saints;
  • ·        to nourish us with the body of Christ, so that, as Christ’s body, we may share ourselves, as gifts to one another and the world;
  • ·        to anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promised realm of shalom.

The prayer may include Remembering the Community (Intercessions), prayers of intercessions remembering particular people or concerns within the community or beyond.

The prayer concludes with Concluding Praise (Doxology), a unison Amen and the Prayer of Jesus (The Lord’s Prayer). Musical settings may be found in VU 932-944. 

All of the above is taken almost word for word from Celebrate God’s Presence, which is the current Service Book for Worship in the United Church of Canada.  This is the longest and oldest form of the Communion Prayer and I have used it as a way of talking about and explaining some of what goes into the Service of the Table. Also, notice that each part says “may include”. 


The  format of the Communion Service used here is actually an outline for use in the creation of original prayers or as a guide to extemporaneous prayer. The historic creedal-like status of eucharistic prayers suggests that great care be used in their composition. However, in the early church, it was also a criterion of worship leadership that presiders be skilled at praying this form freely, yet with integrity and substance. – Celebrate God’s Presence[ii]

There are other forms and styles of Communion prayers, including some from the Reformed Tradition. These are more brief, and reflect the practice of churches of the Reformed tradition in placing the Institution Narrative (i.e., the words or instructions of Jesus) outside the body of the prayer as proclamation or “warrant.” That is the result of a 16th century debate.  We have both forms in our Service Book and may use either. 
            So much for the form and content of communion prayers.  Whether taken from the service book, other resources, or composed by the worship leader in keeping with one of the approved formats, the intention of all the forms of prayer is to engage all of us in communion with the living Christ through remembering Jesus at the table with his friends through word and in action; and, in so doing, we live, through the centuries, the table fellowship instituted or instructed by Jesus.
            Wine or Juice – When the 3 denominations (Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians)  joined to form the United Church of Canada, it was agreed that grape juice rather than wine for communion.  The Methodists used grape juice, and this practice came out of their social gospel roots and the temperance concerns of alcoholism.  The legend goes that a Methodist then developed a juice from the fruit of the vine which was non-alcoholic which could be used in communion; and that his name was John Welch as in Welch’s grape juice.   There is nothing to prevent us from serving wine and, occasionally some congregations serve both making clear which is wine and which is grape juice.
            In the United Church, the tendency has always been in the direction of and open table; that is to make it as accessible as possible to those who sincerely want to take part in the fellowship of the table.  While we believe that understanding the sacred nature of what we are doing in the sacrament of communion is important, we simply invite all who are moved to do so to take part in the fellowship of the table, leaving the decision to the individual.  If we have restrictions at the table, it is on who can service communion, which words of the service are reserved for the ordained person, and how the service of the table is to take place – i.e., in community. 
            We were taught that in the United Church the words reserved for the presider are the words of institution at the breaking of the bread and the lifting of the cup; while in the Anglican tradition it is the Epiclesis or Prayer for Transformation.  I always make certain that, as presider at the table, I say both so that none will be offended. 
            There is another side to sacraments, and especially to the service of the table:  the most important side – and that is that in this simple act of a meal remembered there is time to both connect and reflect – time in the silence to reflect deeply on all that Jesus did and on what it means to be part of the resurrection community – a community that gathers regularly to remember what was, and to imagine what could be; time to reflect on the fellowship of the table, and of the many tables around the world that gather in this same way; to remember that in our differences we are still one body, one people united here at the table by our hope that we would be known by our love; and united by the vision that when we gather, the risen Christ greets us in the bread and the wine.
            A  little while ago, I listened to a CBC radio piece on the problems of children raised on technology, who always have a screen before them  One of the concerns is that a trajectory is being created where the reflective skills associated with reading are being lost.  Children have been known to say “Why do I have to learn that when I can just google it?”  But what to google?  Researchers in pediatric psychology are concerned that without the same grounding in literature, art, physics, chemistry and history as previous generations, children will increasingly display an inability to consider and reflect  which could lead to the inability to even know what questions to ask? 
            Well, here is a place where reflection is understood and silence is valued.  Here is a place where we connect, face to face and consider the things that have meaning for us.  And here we share in something sacred, something that cannot be googled.  The facts about how communion is structured which I gave you at the beginning – those can be googled – along with a myriad of other facts and understandings.  But nothing can replace the experience – it is the experience that is sacred.  It is the gathering, the sharing, the reflecting in the presence of the Holy Presence and one another that is sacred. 
            About 16 or 17 years ago I was taking a two-week course in Spiritual Guidance at what was then The Ottawa Centre for Spiritual Growth.  Among the participants was a young sister who was studying Canon Law at St. Thomas University.  One morning when she came in she told us that she had recently been working on the meaning of Communion – studying and reflecting on it deeply.  Around supper time, on the walk home from the Centre she was feeling hot and tired and hungry.  Ottawa was in a hot, spell and it was after 5 pm.  She decided to stop and rest for a few minutes at a picnic table which was set out beside a Mac’s milk convenience store.  As she sat there, hot, tired and hungry, a girl came out of the store with a lunch bag in her hand.  She sat down at the table across from my friend and opened it up.  She pulled out a fresh bun and without a word broke the bun in half and handed half to the Sister, who wordlessly took it and they ate together.  Then she was  gone, presumably back to work.  Our friend said that it was, without a doubt, communion.  For in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing, she felt something of the spirit of Christ.
So I share with you now, this poem.

Communion Bread
the bread is set upon the table:
           and fields of golden wheat
           stretch out for miles
           against the endless blue expanse
           of prairie sky;
           grain elevators
           with red or black roofs
           black letters
          stretching up, up, up.
in the silence that surrounds the table:
           a threshing machine
           cuts its rhythmic path across the field

    i know what it takes to grow the grain
                       a hot, relentless sun,
                       a sudden burst of showers
                         a wind that comes out of nowhere
                       and goes on forever
                       --and farmers
                       committed to responding to the earth :
                        from the start of planting in the spring
                       to the harvesting in the fall,
                       making trips to the grain elevator
                       where the wheat is stored
                       to feed people they will never see
                       in places they will never visit.

the bread is set upon the table:
           feel the dough beneath my fingers
           pushing this way and that way
           try to follow recipes
           my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my aunt’s;
    discover the bread’s secret is the baker’s love
in the silence, that surrounds the table:
     the clatter of baking pans
     the opening and closing of oven doors
     the heat of the kitchen
     the smell of baking bread

the breaking of bread
      overwhelms the silence
the loaf between two hands
   sorrows for all things broken
   celebrates all things whole
   yields to the pulling and the tearing

the morsel held between my fingers
   passing now from me to you
   lingers in the quiet moment
               in the sowing and the reaping
               in the baking and the serving
               in the breaking and the eating

the bread is set upon the table       

                                      by M. Gayle MacDonald
                                                            copyright 1989        

[i] Prayer A in Celebrate God’s Presence, United Church of Canada Publishing House, Toronto, ON, Canada, 2000

[ii] Celebrate God’s Presence, United Church of Canada Publishing House, Toronto, ON, Canada, 2000, p. 239

United Church of Canada Statements and Creeds on Communion
1925 – Basis of Union 
Article XVI. Of the Sacraments. We acknowledge two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which were instituted by Christ, to be of perpetual obligation as signs and seals of the covenant ratified in His precious blood, as a means of grace, by which, working in us, He doth not only quicken but also strengthen and comfort our faith in Him, and as ordinances through the observance of which His Church is to confess her Lord and be visibly distinguished from the rest of the world.
. . . . . .
The Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of communion with Christ and with His people, in which bread and wine are given and received in thankful remembrance of Him and His sacrifice on the Cross; and they who in faith receive the same do, after a spiritual manner, partake of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to their comfort, nourishment, and growth in grace. All may be admitted to the Lord’s Supper who make a credible profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus and of obedience to His law.

1940 – Statement of Faith
X. The Sacraments
We believe that the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are effectual means through which, by common things and simple acts, the saving love of God is exhibited and communicated to Hispeople, who receive them in faith.
. . . . .
We believe that the Lord’s Supper perpetuates the fellowship between Christ and His disciples sealed in the upper room, that at His table He is always present, and His people are nourished, confirmed, and renewed. The giving and receiving of bread and wine accompanied by His own words signifies thegracious self-giving of Christ as suffering and living Lord in such wise that His faithful people live in Him
and He in them.
So we acknowledge Baptism as God’s appointed means of grace at initiation into the Christian fellowship; and the Lord’s Supper as His appointed means of maintaining the fellowship in health and strength, and as the act of worship in which the whole soul of man goes out to God and God’s grace comes freely to man.

1968 (Rev. 1980, 1995) - A New Creed – Communion is not specifically mentioned

2006 – A Song of Faith
In grateful response to God’s abundant love,
   we bear in mind our integral connection
   to the earth and one another;
we participate in God’s work of healing and mending creation.
To point to the presence of the holy in the world,
   the church receives, consecrates, and shares
   visible signs of the grace of God.
In company with the churches
   of the Reformed and Methodist traditions,
we celebrate two sacraments as gifts of Christ:
baptism and holy communion.
In these sacraments the ordinary things of life
—water, bread, wine—
point beyond themselves to God and God’s love,
   teaching us to be alert
   to the sacred in the midst of life.
. . . . .

Carrying a vision of creation healed and restored,
   we welcome all in the name of Christ.
Invited to the table where none shall go hungry,
   we gather as Christ’s guests and friends.
In holy communion
   we are commissioned to feed as we have been fed,
   forgive as we have been forgiven,
   love as we have been loved.
The open table speaks of the shining promise
   of barriers broken and creation healed.
In the communion meal, wine poured out and bread broken,
   we remember Jesus.
We remember not only the promise but also the price that he paid
   for who he was,
   for what he did and said,
   and for the world’s brokenness.
We taste the mystery of God’s great love for us,
   and are renewed in faith and hope.

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