Communion: Personal reflections

My own experiences of breaking bread, communion, The Lord’s Supper, whatever you choose to call it; within a public worship context has often been underwhelming. That includes many of the times I’ve led it myself.

Growing up in a small evangelical free church, we had communion on a monthly basis towards the end of the service. We remained in our seats while a plate with small diced pieces of white bread were passed around, followed by a wooden tray with lots of little glasses full of blackcurrant juice. We all dutifully took our bit of bread and our little glass and ate and drank. We did all this mostly in silence and then waited for a prayer.

It came as a shock when I finally attended an Anglican service and people silently shuffled in rows to an altar rail to get a wafer and proper wine from a big cup, with towels on hand to wipe away the previous person’s slobber. I appreciated the slightly more active participation but was, and remain, confused as to why we had to go to the person in the frock at the front to receive the bread and wine.

Then we come to my own family of new churches where the experience has been equally erratic. We’re using a real loaf of bread as well as real non-alcoholic wine, the symbols seem more appropriate. The delivery just as odd. Now, once a month, we gather in odd, awkward groups and wait for a pair of servers. Then at our turn we huddle together, grab a chunk of bread and then do a strange group hug while the servers pray for the recipients. Then we shuffle back to our seats and wait for the next bit.

The Anglicans had their liturgy and the non-conformists had theirs (almost always including 1 Cor 11:23-26). For my part I would often try to use a different passage that illustrated something of the sacrifice of Christ recognising that often our understanding of what we were doing was poorly understood and hoping to make this time rich with meaning.

Most occasions in my memory went with the feeling of memorial (‘do this in remembrance of me’) with moments of silent confession before we began. Sometimes this confession became cringe inducing as people were encouraged to walk across the room and put things straight with people, an exhortation that always seemed to be unwise and selling short genuine forgiveness and reconciliation.

I have had powerful encounters with God through sharing the bread and the wine, but rarely has this been in the context of public, corporate worship and more often in a home with some friends. Not sure whether that is significant or not but it has been my experience. What’s been yours?

 

Photo by khrawlings

2 thoughts on “Communion: Personal reflections”

  1. Miashrop says:

    Hi Phil, have been thining about this myself.  (As an anglican ex-nurse, btw, I’d say the  angllican cup is hygeinically ok – silver has amazing anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties).  I agree in principle about the person in the frock – one of the most moving communions I have taken was presided over by a lay person (safespace telford).  However, having recently been to a communion with regular bread passed round on paper plates and wine in tatty mugs (now that did feel like sharing the slobber), it felt too ordinary.  I’m playing around with this – is communion about the sacred becoming ordinary, or the ordinary becoming sacred? By making it a perfunctory passing round without every effort to mark its awesomeness, are we being disrespectful? (Saying that I read of a commmunion in prison where they had o evelemts and acted it out – very moving for all concerned.  i guess its about using what you have). 
    For my part, yes, confesion has to be a part.  But we also need liturgy or readings which encpmpass the past, present and future elements of Holy Comunion – remembrance (throughout schripture of God;s deliverance) the presence of Christ, and our future hope.  All three should be present every time, imho.         

    1. Phil Whittall says:

      Hi Mia
      Thanks for the thoughts. I’m not sure that the best way to demonstrate the sacred becoming ordinary or vice versa is through special containers or surroundings. How could this be carried out in the slums or favelas where all they have is something ordinary? As you say it may be a case of using what you have. So I don’t they majesty or the mystery can lie in the outward appearances.

      Respect is much better shown by making plain its meaning. As to confession, I agree it should be part of the process, what I’m not sure about is when in the context of a service there is encouragement to resolve differences there and then. 

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