“How many sacraments are there in the Presbyterian Church?” “Why do we have a Communion Table and not an altar?” “What is the significance of the different names we have for the sacrament – Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist?” “Why do the pastors have to have an elder with them when they take Communion to people in their homes?” These were just a few of the questions that were discussed this past month as a small group of church folks gathered to learn more about Communion as it is celebrated in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
While the conversations were open to all, one of the prime objectives was to equip families to enrich their children’s celebration of the sacrament. The culmination of this time will be on June 10, when we gather to celebrate Communion as a church family. (Note the change of date.) Children will be invited to gather around the Communion table as the bread is broken and the cup is filled, and these actions will be explained in greater detail.
One of the things discussed in the opening class was the different ways of serving and receiving the sacrament. In our church, we generally serve Communion two ways. Most often, we share the Lord’s Supper in the pews. This method emphasizes our ministry to one another in the “priesthood of all believers” and is more “communal” in nature. Accordingly, we invite people to speak to the person they serve and to the person from whom they receive.
As the bread is served, people are encouraged to say, “The body of Christ given for you.” When serving the wine one may say, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” Alternatively, one may say, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven, and “The cup of the new covenant.” When these words are spoken, the person receiving the bread and wine may respond “Amen.”
On other occasions, the people are invited to come forward to the Lord’s Table. In our Reformed tradition, everything we do is in response to God’s gracious actions on our behalf. In coming forward to receive the elements at the table, we emphasize our response to Christ’s invitation to the feast which he has prepared. When Communion is served in this manner, people also have the option to remain in the pew to be served by an elder.
The Lord’s Supper is an act of the whole community, and a visible sign of the risen Christ’s presence among us. It is an opportunity to engage in a physical action that incorporates a spiritual truth. Even on Sundays when the sacrament is not celebrated, the chalice and plate are on the table to remind us of the purpose of the Lord’s Table – it is a place for a meal — a place for eating and drinking with the risen Christ, in thanksgiving for the gifts of God and in anticipation of that great feast to come in the realm of heaven. And the table is the central symbol of our sanctuary – pastors, choir and congregation all face it.
However or how often it is served, we celebrate Communion as “the joyful feast of the people of God.” We hope you can join us – in body or in spirit – on June 10 as we gather at the table of our Lord.
Yours in Christ,
Mary Jane & Gary