Just under two weeks ago we had our annual Young Adults Weekend Away. It was as always, a significant time of relationship building, good discussion, laughter and adventure. Many aspects of our time away struck me, but the most memorable of these, being what happened as we concluded the weekend.
We tried to place the communion table as centrally as we could in the worship space, as opposed to it’s usual position upfront. This helped promote the sense we were truly ‘gathered around the table‘. After I had shared a short message around exploring the key tenants of new monastic orders, I invited anyone who wanted to share stories of how that had connected with God over the weekend. On the table I had placed 12 tealight candles, which I was supposed to have lit before we began. Noticing my mistake, I instinctively lit the first candle. As subsequent stories of spiritual encounters had been shared, each of the storytellers then lit a candle.
What remained after the last person had shared, was not only a heart encouraged by hearing their stories, but also a table bordered with candles whose incandescence was a tangible reminder of the social nature of the Eucharist. This numinous experience reminded me very poignantly that when we partake of communion, it is not a solo experience, but a communal one. An experience that feeds us not only in the elements, but also as was so powerfully demonstrated on our weekend away, we we receive the elements from the center of a space where we are bordered by the stories of many others.This gives us hope when we are hopeless, and narratives to cling to, when perhaps ours seems currently void of substance.
In his notes on the Eucharist, Martin Luther picks up the social nature of the meal:
“To receive this sacrament in bread and wine, then is nothing else than to receive a sure sign of this fellowship and incorporation with Christ and all his saints. It is as if a citizen were given a sign, a document, or some other token to assure him that they are a citizen of the city, a member of that particular community.”
He later fully expands on the hope aspect:
If any one be in despair, if he be distressed by his sinful conscience or terrified by death, or have any other burden on his heart, and desire to be rid of them all, let him go joyfully to the sacrament of the altar and lay down his grief in the midst of the congregation and seek help from the entire company of the spiritual body”
The Eucharist is a social meal. But it’s also a hopeful meal, and sometimes hope looks like 12 candles, some bread and some wine.