When I was in seminary, the classrooms were under construction, so most of our classes were held in the ‘old’ Duke Divinity Chapel. At that time the chapel was still used for worship, so we had to sit in pew-like chairs utilizing lap desks. I feel like the quintessential old lady when I go in the newly upgraded, cyber friendly classrooms available to the current divinity students. I catch myself starting sentences with the dreaded “in my day…”
You can imagine it wasn’t always a comfortable classroom setting. The altar and pulpit stood at the front of the class as a reminder that this was Holy ground that we were merely borrowing. I will admit that the presence of the pulpit gave a little more weight to what our professors had to say. We had to use the altar as a place to turn in all of our exams. Some of us would make jokes about how we were offering up sacrifices to the God of scholastics. I even remember after one particularly difficult test thinking that mine might actually catch fire once placed on that beautiful altar.
One of my classmates, Shalimar, had a more profound and beautiful observation. What she noticed has stuck with me. Shalimar pointed out that we handed in our exams on an altar table marked with the scriptural command “This Do in Remembrance of me.” All the work I did was in remembrance of Christ. Talk about performance anxiety. But also a helpful reminder that whatever I do is indeed in remembrance of Christ. As a believer, I really do believe my actions are in remembrance of Christ.
“This do in remembrance of me.” The words from the Gospel account of Christ’s last meal and a command that often pops in my head, thanks to my observant classmate.
This do in remembrance of me…..
Last week I shared about my experience at a church that causes me to experience some envy. I ended by sharing that I value the messiness of our little church’s communion. The sacred time surrounding taking communion together is really important for me. I have had lots of responses from that post and I want to thank you for your input!
I had several friends ask if I was speaking about their church. I intentionally left out the name of the church. I respect the work that it does in the community, and I really am jealous of their ability to blend the art of media and the experience of worship; but it did open up a chance for me to share why I value and hold deep reverence for the time of communion.
Communion, Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper – whatever your tradition calls it – I believe is a formational moment for the community. For generations, who was and who was not included at the table set the tone of how well the congregation was living up to the command of doing this “in remembrance of me.” I look at the communion table today and I wonder how metaphorically big are our tables and are we welcoming all people to take communion with us?
How does the way that we take communion form us? I am very intentional about the verbage I use around communion and the way that I preside over the Holy Meal as a member of clergy. Communion and the practices around it are one of the reasons that, given many denominational options, I have remained United Methodist. The United Methodist theology around communion is a match for me. I don’t speak about the denominational differences in communion and how it is celebrated lightly. I know that differences have caused denominations to be created and people have even lost their lives battling over what actually happens at communion. That is not the debate I intend to get into here. Instead, I want to share some ways that I try and hold the miracle of the last supper and how I try to honor “This do in remembrance of me.”
When I speak about communion, I use the language of giving. I say “we give communion.” When I actually offer the bread, I rip it for the person standing before me instead of having them rip it for themselves. While the latter may be more sanitary, it misses out on one of the key things about communion: the fact that we cannot earn the grace that is represented in this holy meal; instead we are given it. Freely. Before I begin the liturgy of communion, I remind people that we as a church believe that this is a meal freely offered. I am deliberate about trying to say everyone’s name as a reminder that in this grace we are deeply known. These small steps I hope begin to open up the table to others, and to the reality that in the meal of communion we are being prepared to live a life in Remembrance of Him. A life filled with grace, not just for us, but for others. May I not fail this test.