SERMON from 11-11-12: John Wesley on Communion

Luke 22.19

19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

John Wesley on Communion

 

I wanted to start out our discussion of communion by sharing a bit of my personal experience with it. My earliest recollection of communion goes back to when I was about 7 years old.

 

Infrequently, we would attend the different services at Countryside Christian Church–a non-denominational church located north of LaPorte, Indiana. This was a pretty decent sized church, and was getting bigger. There were 2 services on Sunday morning and one on Saturday night. There were plans being set into place to build the building in 3 phases. There was an architectural mock-up of the entire plan which was prominently displayed in one of the modernly appointed common areas located throughout the already nice-sized building.

 

Worship took place in a multi-purpose gymnasium, with basketball hoops raised to the rafters during service times. In fact, my earliest VBS memories also took place in that gymnasium–as they recreated a jewish marketplace. Everyone was in costume, and you received “money” to spend at the different booths. I would spend all mine at the booth that made these little potato pancakes served with applesauce. I forget what they were called, but the were delicious. In that same place, I also partook of the Lord’s Supper. Communion.

 

At age 7, I was on the edge of being able to sit with my parents, or go to the nursery. I preferred to go into worship. They had a praise band and I loved the music, and I got to crouch down in the isle to draw during the sermon. It was a gymnasium, but the worship services were lighted to the point where you thought you were at a rock concert. The house lights were low and multi-colored lights illuminated the stage.

 

Once the sermon was done, it was time to partake of communion. It was always time to partake in communion. Countryside Christian Church served communion during every service, every week. If you came for worship, you received communion. Instead of the loaf and chalice, though, ushers brought around trays full of the little cups filled with grape juice, and smaller trays containing oyster crackers. These things were the representatives of Christ’s body and blood.

 

I loved it. It was my own little meal. I loved oyster crackers. I loved grape juice. I got it every week. I didn’t really get what it meant, but I enjoyed the ritual, nonetheless.

 

I still enjoy it. In fact, I enjoy it even more–probably because I understand what it means and represents. However, I do it less often.

 

If there were anything I disliked about being a United Methodist, it would be that fact that communion is looked at like a chore, rather than a grace from God.

 

I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but we all know it’s true. I have had many conversations during my time in the ministry about communion. Mainly–and I am not exaggerating here–these conversations are about having communion less often and shortening the time we spend in communion. I have made different attempts to change this feeling about communion, but I’ve come down to a rule of once a month on the first Sunday of the month. Wouldn’t you know it? That seems to be too much for some people, as some even choose to skip that Sunday–not come at all.

 

Let me be clear, this sermon is not a veiled attempt at guilting you into taking communion seriously. Honestly, communion is a means of God’s grace, and John Wesley had some important feelings on the matter.

 

Before we get to Wesley, let’s talk about Jesus and his disciples–and the early church. Jesus said to “do this in remembrance of me.” He didn’t say how often, he just said that we should do it in remembrance of him. More precisely, we should do it in remembrance of what he did for us, God’s love present in that act and the presence of ourselves, with God, in the midst of the act.

 

In the fear and turmoil that was the time after Jesus was crucified, the disciples gathered in the same room in which they had met with Jesus. The early church–which had yet to become anything but a persecuted minority–met together with the expressed purpose of remembering the meal that the disciples shared with Jesus. It was what their worship was built around. In essence, the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper was what they were built to do.

 

I once had someone suggest that we do communion once a quarter.

 

John Wesley had very strong ideas about how often communion should be observed. His feelings were, “often.” Actually, you could say his opinion was stronger than that. He said, “It is no wonder that men who have no fear of God should never think of doing this. But it is strange that it should be neglected by any that do fear God, and desire to save their souls; And yet nothing is more common.” So, yeah, he had strong feelings–but they are more nuanced than that.

 

Wesley believed that communion was an instituted means of God’s grace. It is something that we are expressly commanded to do. In his sermon on communion, Wesley raises an interesting point. I think it’s a logical fallacy–a pretty unsound argument–but there is a point to be made in it. He says, “Why do you not do this, when you can do it if you will? When you have an opportunity before you, why do not you obey the command of God?”

 

Good question. When you have an opportunity before you, why do not you obey the command of God?

 

Why is this problematic? It is expressly commanded that we do this thing. It is not expressly commanded how often we do this thing. There is a vast grey area that exists between doing it and making sure we do it often enough. It isn’t a matter of doing it on the Sabbath. It isn’t a matter of praying at a specific time. It isn’t a matter of what behaviors are right or wrong. How often do we partake in the Lord’s Supper? This is where Wesley’s logic is saved, to a degree. It’s a matter of “how often do we obey God’s commands?” With communion, that would appear to be as often as it is offered.

 

I understand what’s going on in your head, though. I’ve been sitting in the pew waiting for the pastor to wrap things up. I was 14 and riddled with A.D.D., but I was there. What if your place of worship offers communion? What if they go through the entire liturgy and serve it one-by-one at the front of the sanctuary? What if the pastor’s sermon goes long and we STILL have to do communion?

 

I know you have plans. I know you have company coming over. I know that there is no smaller than a 45 minute wait at any given restaurant–and the wait only gets longer with every passing minute. We all have problems–albeit those are all what I would call “first-world” problems–but communion is about the grace of God and the condition of our hearts as we approach the communion table.

 

Wesley was also pretty particular about what should be on our minds during communion. What are the things I have done? What are the sins I have committed? What is the state of my faith right now? Are we thinking about that, or what time the Colts game starts?

 

Those things are about what we bring to the table. What are the things we get at the table? The grace of God we’ve discussed. However, present in that grace is an understanding of the mercy God offers us. Grace is something we receive, but a part of that is understanding the great mercy extended to us in communion–and throughout our lives.

 

God is the creator of the world. The stars that dot the night sky were all set in motion by his hand. There are scientists that are hypothesizing that what we know about the universe isn’t even 10% of what actually exists. For all we know, the universe that we know is a speck of dust upon the rest of the entire expanse of the vastness of what God has created.

 

That God–the one who did all that–wants to meet you at his table. As it stands right now, about every four weeks, the command of God to partake in the supper is before you. Do you think it would be possible for us to open our hearts, confess our sins, receive his mercy and eat some bread and juice–which is the reminder of the ultimate love God is willing to have for and share with us?

 

Good news, right now’s your shot.

 

AMEN.

One comment on “SERMON from 11-11-12: John Wesley on Communion

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  1. Communion Should Be Observed Every Week: A Young Seminarian’s Thoughts | Notes from the Pastor's Office - March 18, 2013

    […] theme for me to cover, you are right. I preached a sermon series on John Wesley last fall, and here's the […]

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