Communion Thoughts #3- Traditional Practices of Communion

I previously blogged about WHAT COMMUNION IS and WHAT HAPPENS DURING COMMUNION. I now turn to how we actually do communion. Communion has as many practices as it does names and theological perspectives. There are lots of different ways to do communion.

In the early church, communion was a less structured and more organic part of the church gathering. There were no church buildings so people would meet in homes for a meal, some teaching, and the sacrament. If you were not a baptized member of the community, you would be excused from the meal before the bread and wine. In fact, the early Christ-followers were accused of being cannibals because it was said they meet secretly to eat flesh and drink blood.

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We don’t know much about how they took the sacrament, but we can be sure that they did not have little individual cups that could be passed around or little wafers with crosses on them. They used whatever bread or wine they had at the meal. The little cups that many protestants are mainly aware of do not show up until the late 1800’s. Until then, you either did the bread and wine separately or you might have dipped the bread in the wine (called intinction). Some traditions even mix the two together before you partake of it.

Sometimes the elements are served by the pastor or priest up front. This can be done standing or on kneelers. The bread or wafer can be placed into your hand or directly into your mouth. They can also be individual cups or everyone can drink from the same cup.

Many protestants have the elements delivered to them in their pews. Plates of bread come around, followed by a tray with individual cups of juice. Less frequently, everybody comes forward to rip off a piece of bread and dip it into the juice.

I have found that a self-service style of communion works very well. I set a table with the elements on it, and people come up and help themselves to them. For a more intimate communion experience, have everyone come up and stand together around the table so that it feels more like a shared family meal.stained glass 3

The elements themselves can vary also. I personally like the imagery better if the bread is tasty, but some traditions use a wafer or unleavened bread. I just find it to be a better experience if the bread is enjoyed and not survived. Most of Christian history and much of the world today uses wine for communion. In America, there is a tradition stemming from Prohibition where juice is used. In fact, Welch’s grape juice was invented by a Methodist name Thomas Welch as an alternative to wine for the sacrament.

Why is all this important? I have been arguing that communion is a rich and diverse metaphor and tradition. The depth is somewhat lost if you have only ever had communion one way or with one style of elements. There is no reason for it to become routine when there are so many traditional ways of doing it. I will be proposing in the coming blogs some new and creative ways to do communion, but a great place to start is to try it in a way that is different from what you have experienced but is still traditional.

How do you typically do communion? What do you like and not like about doing it that way?

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