Reading through Luther’s writings and those of the Lutheran Reformers, there’s a great deal of discussion of how Communion provides free forgiveness of sins through the Body and Blood of Christ. Nothing is earned. Nothing is merited. If we do not come to the table humbly asking for mercy that we do not deserve, we are better off not coming to the table at all.
Luther’s laser focus on Communion as God’s free gift is critical to our understanding of Communion. Without this concept, the whole sacrament means nothing. If we had to earn even the smallest of God’s gifts none of us would ever attain anything.
It’s, perhaps, unfortunate that this was such a major point of contention during the Reformation. It made the debate center almost entirely on this point and consequently Lutheran theology has followed suit ever since. Rare is it that you hear Communion described as anything but a means of grace in Lutheran churches.
This is unfortunate because making Communion about grace, to the exclusion of everything else, means we lose out on everything that happens because of that grace. The very idea that we are being invited and welcomed into God’s presence to share a meal with Him as a family rarely comes out in discussion. That Communion carries with it that theme of humble petition for grace while simultaneously acknowledging that we are recipients of that grace and are accepted by God is not often heard.
Yes, we have no right to expect any mercy from God. But, nevertheless, He has given us that grace. When we approach His table, it is not to wonder whether He will bless us today. He already has in His invitation to come and share the meal. We have already been made clean and presentable in our baptism. We have already put on the wedding garment, which is Christ’s own righteousness. We do come in humility, but we also come in joy because we are coming to share the family meal in celebration. Communion necessitates thanksgiving, for that’s what the Eucharist is. Communion without thanksgiving misses much of what the sacrament is meant to be.
To that end, I wonder what it would be like to adjust Communion practices throughout the year to reflect the various themes of the sacrament and their connection to Christ’s life. The typical practice in most churches is to have a number of communicants come forward and stand or kneel at the rail around the altar. They are all communed together and they all leave together. Once or twice I’ve seen a church bring members forward who receive the sacrament and then are invited to spend a moment there to pray or reflect in front of the altar. They leave when they choose and ushers fill in gaps with those waiting in line. This more meditative practice might be especially appropriate for penitential seasons like Advent or Lent, but perhaps not so reflective of our mindset in Easter. What ways can we bring out the different themes of Communion in our liturgical practice to ensure they don’t get lost?