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Holy Communion


Holy Communion (con't.)

The Meaning of Holy Communion

In the New Testament, at least six major ideas about Holy Communion are present: thanksgiving, fellowship, remembrance, sacrifice, action of the Holy Spirit, and eschatology.  A brief look at each of these will help us better comprehend the meaning of the sacrament.

Holy Communion is Eucharist, an act of thanksgiving.  As we commune, we express joyful thanks for God’s mighty acts throughout history – for creation, covenant, redemption, and sanctification.  “The Great Thanksgiving” portion of our liturgy conveys our gratitude for the goodness of God and God’s unconditional love for us.

Holy Communion is the communion of the church – the gathered community of the faithful, both local and universal.  While deeply meaningful to the individuals participating, the sacrament is much more than a personal event.  The first person pronouns throughout the ritual are consistently plural – we, us, our.  The sharing and bonding experienced at the Table exemplify the nature of the church and model the world as God would have it be.

Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but this remembrance is much more than simple intellectual recalling.  Doing “this in remembrance of me” is a dynamic action that becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now.  Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.

Holy Communion is a type of sacrifice.  It is a re-presentation, not a repetition, of the sacrifice of Christ.  We also present ourselves as sacrifice in union with Christ.  In the Great Thanksgiving the church prays: “We offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us . . .” (UMH; page 10).

Holy Communion is a vehicle of God’s grace through the action of the Holy Spirit.  The epiclesis (biblical Greek meaning calling upon) is the part of the Great Thanksgiving that calls the Spirit: “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.”  The church asks God “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world . . .” (UMH; page 10).

Holy Communion is eschatological, meaning that it has to do with the end of history, the outcome of God’s purpose for the world – “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again” (UMH; page 10).  We commune not only with the faithful who are physically present but with the saints of the past who join us in the sacrament.  To participate is to receive a foretaste of the future, a pledge of heaven, “until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet” (UMH; page 10).  When we eat and drink at the Table, we become partakers of the divine nature in this life and for life eternal.  We are anticipating the heavenly banquet celebrating God’s victory over sin, evil, and death.  In the midst of the personal and systemic brokenness in which we live, we yearn for everlasting fellowship with Christ and ultimate fulfillment of the divine plan.  Nourished by sacramental grace, we strive to be formed into the image of Christ and to be made instruments for transformation in the world.

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