What is Holy Communion?
An extract from the sermon given by Revd Sue McCoan 7th Jan 2024 on the baptism of Jesus, from Mark 1.4-11
The two sacraments in the Reformed tradition are baptism and holy communion. Baptism is a one-off, but we have communion every month – often enough for it to become so familiar that we don’t always notice what’s happening. So let’s look briefly at the communion service, and why we do what we do.
We always include the story of the last supper, and Jesus sharing bread and wine with the disciples. It’s a reminder that this is not something dreamt up by the church; this is a gift from Jesus to be used whenever his followers gather, to remember him when he is not there, to strengthen the bonds of fellowship between them, to speak to them in the times, especially after the crucifixion and resurrection, when they are beyond words to describe what is happening.
We have a prayer of thanksgiving – as an expression of gratitude, and because Jesus gave thanks before he broke the bread. This is God’s doing, not ours.
At the end of that prayer, we call on the Holy Spirit to be present, not just in the bread and wine but in our sharing. It’s the whole process of doing this together, with the Holy Spirit, that makes this special.
When we’ve done that, I will take the bread, lift it up, and break it. Sometimes churches try to be helpful and cut all the bread into little pieces, but it matters to break a piece of bread. Again, because Jesus did it; because, as Jesus says, it is a symbol of his broken body; because the breaking reminds us of our own brokenness, and how Jesus shares in that. One of the most powerful communion services I’ve ever been to was in a hospital, when I was shadowing the hospital chaplain; there were people with wheelchairs, bandages, or drips – all visibly broken bodies.
I lift up the wine, too. It represents the blood of Jesus as he died; it echoes Old Testament practices of sealing a promise by the blood of sacrifice; it has echoes, too, of the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus saying, ‘If it be your will, let this cup pass me by’. We drink to share in the suffering of Jesus, as he shares in ours.
Churches have different practices in the way they share the bread and wine. Here, we eat the bread as we are served, remembering that this is a personal gift to each of us; then we drink the wine at the same time, remembering that we are all one in community.