There are a number of reasons why we should celebrate Communion often. Sadly, many of them go overlooked. I’ve recently accepted a call to be a pastor in Arkansas and it has me thinking about the nature of celebrating Communion in different places.
In my experience, many Christians see Communion as something that is only between themselves and God. After all, if forgiveness is all there is to Communion, then God and I are the only two who even need to be involved. In that mindset, any church I might attend that is celebrating Communion (even if they’re not Lutheran!) is simply a vending machine for the sacrament. It doesn’t even really matter what that church says about Communion because it’s just between God and I anyway. When you start working with the whole body of Communion theology, how we understand Communion changes pretty drastically.
A few years ago I visited a couple in the hospital who wanted to receive the sacrament. The husband worked a couple of jobs to try and make ends meet, which kept him from attending church very often. His wife, who had been the primary source of income, had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good. She’d lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months and it certainly looked like she might be nearing the end.
We talked for a while about life and how things were going and the fact that they hadn’t been able to share the sacrament together for some time now had really been weighing on them. I responded that I was sorry they were having that problem but that I was glad they thought it was a problem. It ended up being the last time they shared the sacrament before she died.
It was at the funeral that I reminded the husband of what they had told me and put that into the context of Communion. There is one Christ. There is one Kingdom of God. There is one table at which we celebrate. Since sharing the table with Christ necessarily means entering into His Kingdom, for that brief period when we are celebrating, time has no real meaning. All of God’s people who are celebrating or who have ever celebrated are gathered together around one table to receive the precious gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. That also means, when he celebrates Communion, this poor widower is given the opportunity to spend a few moments sharing a meal with his wife, who now awaits the resurrection of all flesh.
When the Creed refers to the “Communion of the saints,” it truly means all saints. The Hallmark-esque view of heaven as the place where we are finally reunited with our loved ones is touching, but it also overlooks what God is doing for us right now in the present day. God brings that time to us now. God shows us we are never truly separated from Him or from anyone else who has died in the faith. That makes Communion the greatest source of comfort God has given us. We see God’s promise in action in our lives today and can go to the grave knowing that, in that sense, nothing has changed. We have been sharing in Communion with Christ most of our lives and so we continue to do so throughout eternity.