For the longest time I wondered what Communion was all about. As a child I would watch all the non-members of the church leave on the last hymn, the rest of us move forward in the pews and the Elders in their blue suits sit in large royal-like chairs beside the Minister. At a certain point the Elders would move among the pews with polished trays of small cubes of bread and tiny thimbles of grape juice. As a member I would take my cube, my tiny glass, and when the Minister ate and drank I would too. Things were quiet and there was reverence but looking around me I wondered if I was the only one who questioned what this was all about.
There were no sermons on Communion, in our church the sermons were usually based on the Beatitudes and some piece of wisdom uncovered from Readers Digest. The underlying message each Sunday was “be kind” and the church’s message seemed to be “be a doer.” But what about Communion? I would ask from time to time and usually receive “you should ask the Minister.” One day I did and he told me the Sacrament was “an outward sign of an inward grace”. I am not sure I followed. Later in seminary I came to understand those words this way, in Baptism and Communion we receive what we do not earn, both are a free gifts that represent unconditional love.
Of course many Christians also focus on the sacrificial aspect of Communion, that Jesus shed his blood, allowed his body to be broken for our sins as an atoning act of love. By this definition Communion becomes not only an act of remembering but also an act of thanksgiving, our gratitude for His sacrifice.
Leaving aside the theology of that understanding it is a very passive expression of faith. Jesus did this, we remember and give thanks. My faith has always had more agency to it than this. Receiving the Sacrament as a passive gift, patiently waiting for the Minister to say the prayer, for the Elders to serve the meal, remaining seated, in complete and total silence, gothic music playing in the background, my faith was not exactly set on fire.
One day I saw Fritz Eichenberg's "The Lord's Supper”, a print one often sees in soup kitchens. Eichenberg was a friend of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. It changed how I saw Communion. In Jesus’ day who ate at the Table was a political, social and economic decision. It was also a religious matter. In Luke 14 Jesus offered a contrary point of view to leaders of his time. Jesus insisted that persons called sinners be invited to the Table. The Table became a way to symbolize who the community was. When Jesus spent his last night with this band of followers he told them to remember him when they ate together.
On this Worldwide Communion Sunday I reflect on who I eat with, whom my church eats with and if Jesus would recognize this Table by those who sit around it.