A Communion Mediation
Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
October 6, 2002
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion or The Lordís Supper. Today is also World Communion Sunday, a day designated every year for the church universal to recognize and celebrate its unity through the common celebration of this universal sacrament. Several times in the six months that I have been with you I have told you how important this sacrament is to me in my own faith life, most recently just last week when I said that I consider the sacrament one of the principal ways in which we connect with and become aware of the presence of Spirit, of God, with us, within us, and all around us. But just what is the Eucharist? Why do we do this odd ritual with little pieces of bread and little sips of grape juice (which is really supposed to be wine but which for historical reasons became and for good pastoral reasons remains grape juice)?
Well, one of the things it is is one of two rituals in the life of the church that the Bible tells us were instituted by Jesus himself. Baptism is the other, and that is why we Protestants consider only these two to be sacraments. It is one of the oldest rituals of the church. The oldest account of its institution that we have comes not from the Gospels but from Paulís first letter to the Corinthians that we read as our Epistle lesson this morning. All of the authentic letters of Paul are older than the oldest Gospel. So with this account of Paulís we are taken far back into the early days of Christianity, when small, very small groups of Christians met once a week for the primary purpose of celebrating the Eucharist. In the passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul claims to have received the institution of the sacrament directly from the Lord. However that may be, there almost certainly was an oral tradition about the Eucharist that goes even farther back in the Christian tradition. The Eucharist has been celebrated by Christians of every theological persuasion from the very beginnings of the faith. When we celebrate it, we connect ourselves to an unbroken line of witnesses stretching back some two thousand years to Jesus himself.
OK, but what does it mean to call this ritual a sacrament? Wars have been fought over the proper understanding of the Christian sacraments. By the grace of God we are beyond that now, thanks be to God. The best definition I know of a sacrament is that it is "an outward sign of an inward grace." A sacrament is a rite that uses the ordinary things of life, in this case bread and wine, as the means of grace. In the sacrament, these ordinary, mundane things, become the agents by which the grace of God, indeed the very presence of Christ are brought to life, brought into our lives, and made a living reality for us. We do not take the words "this is my body, this is my blood" literally. Although you may have heard otherwise, not even Catholics, or at least not sophisticated Catholics, understand these words in a simplistic literalistic way. Rather, these words are a way of pointing to the symbolic or representational nature of the bread and the wine. They are a material sign of the spiritual grace of Christís presence with and among us. Although his language is rather negative, I think this is what Paul is getting at in his first letter to the Corinthians when he says that it is wrong to eat and drink "without discerning the body." Our goal when we participate in the Eucharist should be to discern the real presence of Christ with and among us as we do so.
How do we do that? Well, the prayers that I read and the ritual acts that I perform as I preside at the sacrament are designed to help us do it. Listen to the words and observe the acts carefully. I think the real key to experiencing the sacrament as a true opening to us of the presence of Christ among us is simply to approach the sacrament with an openness to the possibility that something mystically divine is taking place. It isnít a matter of proper sacramental theology. It isnít a matter of intellectual understanding or cognitive assent. Rather, it is a matter of simply letting go or our resistance, of the barriers we erect to the presence of the Holy, letting go of the rationalistic world view that says nothing is happening here. So today, as you approach the sacrament, try just sitting back and letting go. Donít analyze what is happening. Just experience it. Donít think about it. Just feel it. Take it into your soul and let it do its transformative work there. If you must think of something, think of how amazing it is that Jesus Christ comes to us, even to us, in the bread and the wine, that here Jesus Christ invites Himself into our presence and invites us into His presence, no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, no matter how unworthy the world might say that we are. Christ is truly present here in this sacrament. We just need to discern the body, to open ourselves to that sacred presence, to let it into our hearts, minds, and souls. If we do, we will truly be amazed at the peace, at the grace that is ours to be had here today in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. Thanks be to God. Amen.