This past weekend I attended the MCM Leadership Seminar with other pastor’s in our province. Willard Metzger was our speaker and in his opening session he recapped some Anabaptist history (it was like a refresher in Anabaptist Beginnings with Karl Koop from my first year at CMU). While Willard is obviously very knowledgeable and passionate about the history of early Anabaptists, and made a lot of interesting observations, I would like to focus on one thing he talked about that really struck me.
Willard talked about the early AnaBs getting together to celebrate communion. He said that it was not so much about the elements of communion that made it special, but more importantly about the act of coming together as a community to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The community experiencing this event together is what was truly special.
This got me thinking about my own personal experiences with communion. I have had communion with the traditional cubed bread and individual cup of grape juice. I have had communion where the bread has been dipped into a common cup and then eaten. I’ve had communion with water and pieces of muffins, with grapes and crackers. I’ve had communion where you rip a piece of bread off of a huge loaf (which has actually led to a few hilarious outcomes) and pass around a common cup. I’ve had communion with wine, where someone noted that to them, the Holy Spirit “tastes like a vintage Port.”
Other than the elements, another variant in communion can be how the elements are served. I’ve had communion where you serve the elements to your neighbor, and look them in the eye and smile at them to show that you are right with them before you partake. I’ve had communion where you served individually at your seat by a pastor or lay person. I’ve had communion where you go to the front and receive the elements at the communion table. I’ve had communion where you chose someone who you were in conflict with, and after a conversation of forgiveness and reconciliation, you took the elements together. If you needed to speak with more than one person, you took the elements as many times as needed.
But I’ve also been in churches where there was a near outrage when the communion bread changed – where woman have slaved away for entire Saturdays to prepare enough special leaven bread because “no other bread” would be acceptable for communion. And like the recipe for the bread, I’ve been in situations where people are horrified and angry over the way in which communion is served. And at the slightest hint of change, their defenses go up, claiming that communion is just not communion if it is not served a certain way.
This makes me sad, as I think it speaks against the very thing Willard shared about our forefathers. To them, being together, and reflecting on what Christ has done for their community was in itself their reason to celebrate communion together. I respect that tradition is of high importance to many Mennonites and that communion is of no exception. However, I do wonder if for some, the act of communing together and thanking God for the sacrifice of Jesus has taken a back seat to tradition – to bread recipes and serving styles.
I think I have been really fortunate to have experienced communion is so many ways. I have loved my varied experiences with communion because I believe they have kept my focus on the similarities each time – the beautiful text read, the reflection on Jesus’ sacrifice, and on the importance of being with my faith community.
I’d be very interested to hear your experiences with communion, and how they’ve shaped your view of the Lord’s Supper within a congregational context.