Although the ritual of Holy Communion has evolved over twenty centuries, at its heart is a simple symbolic meal shared in obedience to the command of Christ. In it we remember Him and are joined with Him. St John’s Gospel records with tenderness how Jesus prepared his disciples for the time when they would no longer see Him. Jesus spoke with touching affection for those, like us, who would never see Him in the flesh. We need particular encouragement as we live by faith rather than sight. Jesus gave us a simple picture of bread and wine, but one which has profound meaning: bread for His body, wine for His blood.
Since then, the church has developed certain habits around the symbolic meal which encourage a balance and depth in our search for holiness. First, we offer greetings and praise, emphasising that we belong to God and each other. For our faith and character are not formed in private isolation but as part of a community. Then we consider our need of God, admitting to Her the things we fear, or are ashamed of, and ask for Her forgiveness, which is confidently declared.
The air cleared, we are hopefully able to reflect honestly, hearing from and responding to readings from the Bible. This is not merely to study intriguing ancient texts. By telling and re-telling the Biblical story of God’s relationship with humanity, we set our own lives in its context, showing that our story is part of that bigger story. When we come to worship bright with success, we are humbled by the remembrance of human failure. When we bring self-doubt and fear, we are encouraged by the assertion of God’s love for us. In times of joy we remember those in distress; in sorrow, we insist on hearing the promise of hope. The great story of faith is not complete. We all have a part to play as we let the story shape our habits and character so that our lives bring hope to others, moving society towards the justice of heaven.
After reflection come prayers of intercession; asking God’s specific help for the church, the world and each other. We again affirm our belonging by sharing a sign of peace, then prepare the table for the meal.
The great prayer of thanksgiving over the bread and wine celebrates God as our creator and remembers the ups and downs of human relationships with Him. The story reaches a climax when we remember how Christ came to bridge the perceived gap between us. His last supper with his disciples is recalled and, by repeating His act with bread and wine, we make visible and deepen our communion with Him.
This meal does not only echo the past. It also foretells the future. The prayer ends by looking forward to heaven where, the Bible imagines, we shall feast with God Herself as host. So, our meal looks back, strengthens us in the present, and celebrates our future in heaven.
As we eat the bread and wine, the image of Christ’s body and blood is unsettling. It can make us shudder, but it is deliberately graphic. For when we bring our anxiety about the world’s suffering to God, we remember the death of Christ and see there God’s profound understanding of our predicament. We know that He shares our pain. Remembering Christ’s resurrection, we see His offer of hope for all who suffer. Eating bread and drinking wine to remember His body and blood helps us to feel confident that the love of the suffering, risen Christ is within us, as close as the things we swallow.
The poet George Herbert caught it like this:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
which my God feels as blood; but I as wine.
As we leave church, we cannot leave the bread and wine behind. It is now part of us, assuring us that Christ’s love is with us throughout the week. We go to gather new thanksgivings, new intercessions, needs and hopes to bring next time. You could say, our next Holy Communion has already begun.
Take part as much as you feel comfortable. Draw as near as you wish. The invitation to worship is not ours but God’s, and springs from Her open-handed love.
Who can receive Holy Communion?
Anyone who has been baptised may receive Communion. Some prefer to wait until they have been confirmed before receiving. (Confirmation is a celebration, conducted by the Bishop, when those who have been baptised as infants claim their baptismal promises as their own. Please talk to David if you would like to explore this.)
Even if you have not been baptised, David will not refuse to give Communion to anyone who reaches out their hands to receive it.
If you prefer not to receive Communion but would like to receive a prayer of blessing, come forward but simply keep your hands at your sides.
If limited mobility makes it difficult for you to approach the altar, please tell one of the welcomers and we will bring Communion to you.