Ecclesiology and the Celebration of the Lord's Supper
Ecclesiologically, the Lord's Supper is connected to sanctification. Bishop William Willimon writes,
"Sanctification is a willingness to see our lives as significant only as we are found in God's image for us. According to Paul, that image is always ecclesial, social, communal. In our attentiveness and response to this call to be saints, we find our thoughts, affections, sight, and deeds qualified by this beckoning grace. We become characterized as those who attend to the world in a different way for those who are not so qualified. Gradually, Sunday by Sunday, day by day, we are weaned from our natural self-centered, autonomous ways of looking at the world until we become as we profess. We are different" (The Service of God).
Wesley believed that frequent participation in the Eucharist was crucial to the spiritual formation of the believer. The prayer after the meal reflects this theme of sanctification.
"You have given yourself to us, Lord. Now we give ourselves for others. Your love has made us a new people. As a people of love we will serve you with joy. Your glory has filled our hearts; help us to glorify you in all things. Amen" (We Gather Together).
Ultimately the church is known by the character of the people who comprise it, yet, at the same time, believers don't fear failure in the Christian life, because in the Lord's Supper we affirm that it is possible for God to forgive us, and, therefore, we forgive one another as well. This is why we are able to offer the Peace before the meal; for peace is impossible without forgiveness.
The church is communal in nature and, therefore, the sacraments, which are the marks of the church, are also communal in nature. Holy Communion is a "sacrament of assembly" (Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology). The Eucharist reflects the unity of the church. This is at the heart of Paul's discussion of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians. The very meal that was supposed to signify their unity, in actuality, divided them. In the Eucharist, Christians affirm not only reconciliation with God, but with one another as well. We must forgive one another. While we may be different and while we may not always agree, at the Lord's Table we proclaim our unity that stands, in spite of the disagreement that is bound to occur. Thus we sing the refrain,
"One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord" (UM Hymnal #620).
This is not some idealistic view of church unity that covers its problems with a superficial notion of inclusiveness and a simplistic understanding of the insignificance of doctrine; it is the kind of unity that is revealed where the church fulfills its purpose: in its worship. The Lord's Supper embodies that unity. This is not a fragile unity held together by treaties and contracts; rather it is a unity created by nothing less than the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The liturgy again guides us:
"He healed and taught, ate with sinners, and won for you a new people by water and the Spirit" (We Gather Together).
This gives us the confidence to pray to the Father: "By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world" (UM Hymnal p. 14).
When we lift the bread and cup, we lift the one church as an offering before God.