This week was the final session of the Lent Course, in which we were exploring bread and wine. From the title of this piece you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going in a very different direction to what I’m actually writing about. Given that the sun has started warming the air for us, for thinking this piece was triggered by my tucking into some lovely crusty bread, a nice piece of ripe brie and a lovely glass of wine to wash it down. Alas no, this piece is not about this, but it is about the sharing of bread and wine in Holy Communion.
We thought about the images which go through our mind when we take Holy Communion. My first thought was how often the wafer stuck to the roof of my mouth, and how difficult it was to dislodge. The wine I remember drinking from the silver chalice, taking a sip as it was held there for me, before being wiped and offered to the next person kneeling at the rail. The silence, the intensity and the intimacy of kneeling at the altar rail, made me feel humble, vulnerable and exposed, overwhelmed, and yet calm in the presence of something great, huge, almighty. The strong taste of the wine lingering as I made my way back to my pew, walking past the queue of people waiting in line for their turn. There would be a peacefulness during this part of the service, and I'd watch as the vicar drank the remainder of the cup, all of it, tipping his head backwards ensuring he caught even the very last drop. The week he poured it down the front of me there wasn’t a whole lot left I can tell you.
We talked about what we should actually be thinking about, which is that as we eat and drink, we look in a number of directions at once: backwards at Jesus on the cross, around us at the body of Christ, up at the ascended Christ, forward to the coming of Christ, and here and now in the presence of the living Christ.
I’ve never actually taken Holy Communion in the Methodist Church, and I wondered if they did indeed have a non alcoholic representation of the wine, and whether they had real bread rather than communion wafers. My mum grew up a Methodist, and she used to tell us of the Ribena and Mother’s Pride they’d have at communion. I learned that it was still a non alcoholic drink which was offered, and that everybody who understood the significance of taking Communion was welcome to join. How different that was I thought from my C of E upbringing, and indeed Justin’s Catholic upbringing, whereby unless you were confirmed within that faith you actually weren’t welcome to take Communion. Whether or not that is true I don’t know, but I do know that this was my belief from that which I’d experienced. In fact, Justin tells me that in the Catholic church you don't drink the wine at Communion, that is reserved for the priest.
I remember my confirmation, at Manchester Cathedral, by Stanley, Bishop of Manchester, and I remember my first communion. Even before that I can remember going to Church for Holy Communion and receiving a blessing at the communion rail … even then, the same overwhelming feeling came over me, as I knelt before God.
Communion by its very name I feel should be communal; it should be about community and togetherness. We share the bread, we share the wine, we share God’s love. Knowing each other, or knowing something about the person who is sitting next to us is about being part of God’s family, and when we receive God’s love, we should share this with others too. Physically going to Church itself feels far more communal than worshipping via a zoom link, but circumstances are such that this cannot happen at present. I feel that I can be with God anywhere, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be in church, but being part of a church community means that we need to have that physical connection with others. Being together, helping and supporting one another, is what makes the church, and all that is the church community. On many occasions I’ve seen posters outside churches: CH .. CH What’s missing? UR
Exactly. It is us that is missing from churches, being together, chatting, conversing, being there for one another. Thankfully technology has enabled many of us to keep in touch remotely; it has allowed us to be together, and be part of the church community, and fit this around our busy lives; it has allowed us to connect with others from other churches, who we may not have otherwise met … for me these are positives and great examples of community.
Jesus said I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me, will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I’ve always thought of taking Communion as quite a serious part of the service. We think about the Last Supper, the sharing of the bread and the wine, and the significance of the words Jesus spoke.
In Communion we gather together, we listen to readings and prayers, we offer a sign of peace to each other, we sing hymns and we say the creed, reinforcing our commitment to that which we believe, before receiving the body and blood of Christ. God is hospitable to us and welcomes us all to his family and to his table; he feeds our souls and fills us with His love.
It is many years since I have knelt before God and taken Communion, and just exploring this subject has brought back so many thoughts and memories, and it has given more meaning to what is already within me.
I said at the start of the course, before I’d even started the course in fact, that I was worried that it would be a bit too deep for me, and I was concerned about not looking forward to it as much as the advent course I’d done. It was deep, but also interesting and thought provoking; I haven’t always agreed with everything, I’ve struggled with questions, answers and prayer at times, but I have come out of this having learned a great deal. There is still much for me to learn, there always will be, and this I try to do with an open mind and an open heart, always.
This weekend is Easter Sunday, and having given up chocolate, and biscuits for Lent, I'm going to enjoy binging on some chocolate eggs. I've learned lots about Lent on this course, and know that giving something up is not really all this is about, and although I've abstained from these things I love, I think the giving of my time, and myself has been of more significance. A memory popped up today on facebook, of a conversation I had with my youngest several years ago, when I was explaining to him about Easter, how it wasn't about the Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs, and putting things into very childlike terms, I talked about Jesus' death and the resurrection - and that's magic he said. Indeed it is.