In our Reformed tradition we are less concerned with the status of the minister presiding, that the celebrant has to be authentically ordained; we are less concerned as to the status of the bread and wine which we share, that it can be the body and blood of Jesus only when the priest makes that happen; we are less concerned with the worthiness of any of us to ‘do this in memory of me’ as Jesus said, as though even after a prayer of confession and a word of forgiveness we are ultimately worthy of what God has done.
And yet this remains the distinctive Christian act of worship; to miss out on Holy Communion is somehow to miss out on the fulness of God’s grace in Christ. So it is especially hard when circumstances deny us the opportunity to do this, to do this together.
Essential to the whole doctrinal debate around the Communion is the invitation to recognise Jesus as Christ, as Emmanuel God with us, as a living presence with his people whoever and wherever they are. For me, and for those in our tradition, the word Communion best sums up what we do here. There is a togetherness which is timeless in significance.
To call Jesus Lord is to worship him. We do not worship the bread and wine; nor do Orthodox and Catholic Christians even though it may look like it sometimes. It is just that these elements uniquely represent Jesus and his living presence with his people. His own command ‘remember me’ is not nostalgia or wishful thinking, dreaming of how things ought to be, but a recognition that Jesus is Lord and that therefore God is Christlike.
Before we come to the Communion a word about the two readings we heard (Isaiah 5 vv1-7 and Matthew 21 vv33-46). I suspect they need very little unpacking. The old picture, spelt out by Isaiah, of God’s people as failing stewards of the vineyard is taken up by Jesus. He almost repeats what he said on another occasion ‘today is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing’. God’s people have not produced what God requires and – crucially – they think they have. But the grapes are sour; the religion is bitter and empty; self-righteousness has replaced righteousness; the verdict is due.
This challenge is a message for the Church in every age, including our own. Have we produced the fruit of the Spirit in such abundance that God’s goodness can be seen in the harvest of our lives? Put like that it is hard to answer ‘yes’. But there is plenty of evidence of God’s Holy Spirit blowing, unseen as the wind but evident by its effect. Perhaps society is a bit more polarised in this corona-time, between those whose selfishness has become more marked and those who have found grace to help others in a time of need. Let’s commit ourselves as Christians to live as we are meant to live. And let’s never forget the inner strength of God’s forgiveness and encouragement.
So then, one outward and visible sign of the inner grace of God is the sacrament of Holy Communion which we will share. Sometimes this is called the Eucharist which, as you may recall, derives from the Greek work for thanksgiving; we come as thankful people.
Revd Peter Brain
Use this hymn as a reflection:
An upper room did our Lord prepare
for those he loved until the end;
and his disciples still gather there
to celebrate their Risen Friend.
A lasting gift Jesus gave his own —
to share his bread, his loving cup;
whatever burdens may bow us down,
he by his cross shall lift us up.
And after supper he washed their feet,
for service, too, is sacrament;
in him our joy shall be made complete—
sent out to serve, as he was sent.
No end there is! We depart in peace;
he loves beyond the uttermost;
in every room in our Father’s house
he will be there, as Lord and Host.
F. Pratt Green (1903 – 2000)