Communion: A Meaningless Ritual?

On the rare Sunday when the church I grew up in offered communion, I thought of it as an annoyance. The sacrament had little meaning for me. Rather than an integrated part of worship, it felt like something that was “tacked on,” making services drone on to the point that I, who always loved going to church, wished that I had stayed home to avoid the monotony of an empty ritual. Communion felt like an empty ritual.

My experience changed over time. I began to understand communion, and it became meaningful for me, when I began experiencing it every week. There is a longer story; I was somewhat reluctant about beginning this as a weekly practice. What I discovered, however, was a palpable feeling of community and connection. I discovered that there is not one explanation or meaning for communion for me, but a myriad of meanings that have grown over time.

There is not something magical about a loaf of bread or glass of juice, but there is something powerful about returning to a common practice, week after week, to intentionally remember who you are and what you care most about. From week to week our lives change, sometimes indiscernibly and sometimes dramatically. It can be powerful and mystical to hear similar words, “come, however it is that you are … this is the bread of life .. this is the cup of love ..” repeated over time, at different stages of our lives, and different stages of life for those with whom we gather. Sometimes I will need to hear these words of compassion, justice, and inclusion. Other times, I am praying with every fiber of my being that someone else who I know is struggling will be able to hear those words.

We have recently begun a new format for our 9 a.m. service and one of the elements of this service is the weekly practice of communion. Last week, the words I heard most from people who experienced the service were “community” and “connection.” This delighted me because that was the staff’s hope. If you are someone, like me, who has been annoyed by communion in the past or perhaps were brought up being taught that it had some meaning associated with guilt, shame, or exclusion, I invite you to suspend judgment and engage in our holy experiment. Come, however it is that you are … the table of love and joy has been set for you.

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by Laura Martin

The reality is that I too have

Authored your pain.

I laid a blank piece of paper down

When you needed me to respond.

I chose the shortcut.

I learned complicity,

Learned to move quietly in my privilege,

Learned to let the doors open for me

Before walked inside.

I inherited fear

And did not unlearn it.

In fight or flight, I flew.

I confess all this.

And I commit to hearing

The raw stories,

To letting your vulnerability

Chafe me.