July 31, 2014

What Is Holy Communion?

By E. Byron Anderson |
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Holy Communion is a sacred ritual action, a holy meal through which the church remembers God’s saving work in creation and covenant, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church invites and invokes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, celebrating with thanksgiving Christ’s continuing presence in the world through the Holy Spirit. We receive a foretaste of and anticipate the heavenly banquet.

Holy Communion is also often referred to as Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. Each of these names finds its roots in the witness of the New Testament and in the life of the early church. Holy Communion emphasizes the holy meal as a means by which we participate in a holy and loving relationship with God and our neighbors (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,” reminds us that when Jesus gathered his disciples for a meal, he gave thanks to God for God’s creating and saving work in the world (Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). This understanding is reflected in the fact that many churches call the prayer at the holy meal the “Great Thanksgiving.”

In Eucharist we continue Jesus’ action of thanksgiving as we offer our own praise and thanks to God. The Great Thanksgiving typically includes remembrance of God’s saving work in the history of Israel, in Christ, and in the church; a specific recalling (anamnesis) of the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper; and an invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) over the bread and cup that they may be, for God’s people, the body and blood of Christ and that we may be Christ’s body in the world.

Churches variously speak of Holy Communion as sacrament or ordinance. When we speak of the holy meal as sacrament, we emphasize God’s action toward us. We see in the meal a sign and means of God’s grace toward the world. In the sharing of bread and wine, God reaches out to persons and communities in grace, bringing life, strength, and confidence in the life of faith. In speaking of the holy meal as ordinance, we emphasize the way in which the meal is a command or law for the church. As such, the emphasis falls on our actions of obedience to Christ’s command that we “do this in remembrance of [him]” as recounted in the stories of the Last Supper (Luke 22:14-23 and parallels). These two understandings together enable us to see the holy meal as a means of God’s gracious action toward us and a means by which we respond to God’s grace with faith in obedience.

The basic ecumenical shape of Holy Communion reflects a fourfold shape of gathering, Word, table, and sending. The community of faith gathers with prayer and song. The Word is proclaimed through the reading of scripture and interpreted through preaching, music, and other arts. The community responds to the Word in intercessory prayer for the world and acts of commitment and baptism. We prepare the table with the offerings of our gifts and with the gifts of bread and wine. Thanksgiving is offered, bread broken, wine poured; the bread and cup are shared with all who may receive. Depending on the rules of the community, these may be all who wish to receive, all who are baptized, all who are formal members of the community in good standing, or some other defined group. The action at the table reflects the biblical actions—take, bless, break, and give—that accompany all of the meals Jesus shares with his disciples. (See the feeding of the multitudes in Matthew 14:13-21 and parallels.) With concluding prayers, songs, and blessings, the community is sent into the world to continue its ministry of self-giving and worshipful service.

E. Byron (Ron) Anderson is Styberg Professor of Worship and director of the Nellie B. Ebersol Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is an ordained elder in full connection with the Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. His research and writing focuses on the connection between worship and Christian formation. Anderson is the author and editor of several books, including Worship and Christian Identity (Liturgical Press), Taught by God: Teaching and Spiritual Formation (coauthored with Karen Marie Yust, Chalice Press), and Worship Matters, 2 vols. (Discipleship Resources).

For further reading, see That We May Perfectly Love Thee by Robert Benson.

This article is an excerpt from pages 132-133 of The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe.  Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.

 
July 28, 2014

Wrestling Jacob

By E. Byron Anderson |
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ebyronanderson
The Upper Room Disciplines is a best-selling book of daily devotions published annually by Upper Room Books. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the first reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.

 

Read Genesis 32:22-31

If you know Jacob’s story, you know that he hardly models holiness in the sight of God. Yet, somehow, Jacob is the one who prevails in the wrestling match with God. Jacob is the one who becomes Israel. Jacob is the one who receives God’s blessing. How did this happen?

The story of “Wrestling Jacob” begins in the night, a time of vulnerability when every shadow hints at a threat to life, a time when we are most susceptible to being wounded, a time when all that haunts our minds and hearts seems to get the best of us. (There is a reason we fear nightmares but cherish daydreams.) More, it begins at a point where Jacob is alone, dispossessed of both family and property. He is neither here nor there, no longer in his own land and not yet with his brother and family. He is nowhere and has nothing. Perhaps you’ve been there.

Jacob and, like him, the Christian desert mothers and fathers, discovered that readiness for encounters with God often comes when we find ourselves at the point of nowhere and having nothing. Vulnerable and alone, we can do no more than trust in God, in God’s love, and in God’s promise, even when it seems, as it must have seemed to Jacob, that God is on the attack.

Perhaps at this point Jacob and those desert mothers and fathers show us what holiness looks like and how it develops—not from a life of easy choices but from a life of persistent wrestling with God. When we wrestle with God, we discover, like Jacob, that we are no longer who we were. Moreover, we seem to have acquired a limp.

Grant me, O God, the tenacity to wrestle with you through the darkness of my life that, when the new day dawns, I may radiate your transforming love and grace. Amen.

 

E. Byron (Ron) Anderson is Styberg Professor of Worship and director of the Nellie B. Ebersol Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is an ordained elder in full connection with the Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. His research and writing focuses on the connection between worship and Christian formation. Anderson is the author and editor of several books, including Worship and Christian Identity (Liturgical Press), Taught by God: Teaching and Spiritual Formation (coauthored with Karen Marie Yust, Chalice Press), and Worship Matters, 2 vols. (Discipleship Resources).

 
July 24, 2014

What Is Worship Without Walls?

By Jacob Armstrong |
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We often think of church as a building. Either that or “church” is something that happens in an hourlong service on Sunday mornings. When we began Providence Church, we had neither a building nor morning worship for nine months. It was an important time as we considered what it really meant to be the church.

After a careful examination of Jesus, we noticed that he spent much of his time with those who felt disconnected from God, the community, and the faith community. It led us as a new church, with no church building and no church services, to go out into the places of need in our community. We devoted most of our time in those nine months to serving our community. It seemed like what Jesus would have done had he been in our shoes. We listened to and learned from our community as we served in any way we could.

Eventually, our church began worshiping on Sunday mornings. We still don’t have a building! (We have met in a city park, movie theater, hotel meeting room, and at elementary, middle, and high schools.) What we found a year or so in, though, was it that it becomes easier and easier to just have “church” on Sunday mornings and not be the church in the community. It was out of this tension that we organized and held our first Worship Without Walls in 2010.

On Worship Without Walls Sunday, instead of worshiping for an hour in our middle school gym, we worship God by serving our community. We communicate that worship takes on many forms, and instead of a worship service, we worship through service. The projects are varied, and we have projects that are accessible to all people.

Worship Without Walls has allowed us to become known as “that church that worked on Sunday!” and “the church that is doing things in the community.” Our local city government contacts us now to let us know how we can serve them. WWW has developed partnerships with local nonprofits that are serving those in need, and now we serve with them throughout the year. But most important for us is that it has kept us connected to what we believe is God’s vision for our church.

The vision of our new church is “to see those who feel disconnected from God and the church find hope, healing, and wholeness in Jesus Christ.” Worship Without Walls has become for us not just a one-day event, but a way of life.

Every day we encounter people who are in the midst of life-altering interruptions who need to know Jesus is with them even and especially then. We must remember that church is neither a building nor a one-hour gathering for worship. Our lives change when we see worship as something that can happen outside the walls of the church building – worship as a way of life that honors God and connects the disconnected.

 

Jacob Armstrong–InterruptionsJacob Armstrong is the founding pastor of Providence Church, a vibrant young United Methodist congregation in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Jacob and his wife, Rachel, have three daughters. He is the author of 5 books, including Interruptions: A 40-Day Journey with Jesus.
 
July 21, 2014

Love Prevails

By Peter Velander |
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The Upper Room Disciplines is a best-selling book of daily devotions published annually by Upper Room Books. Each week’s readings are reflections on scripture passages from the lectionary for that period. On Mondays the first reading for the week will be posted. We’d love to hear what you think about the week’s readings and prayers. Just sign in and add your comment in the Comments section following this post.

 

Read Genesis 29:15-28

As often happens, the story of God’s people reads more like a soap opera than holy history. It is fitting that we begin our week together witnessing some of the best and worst of human behavior because God meets us in these and all circumstances.

How can we not admire Jacob’s devoted love for Rachel—a love that works hard and waits patiently for seven years to be together with his beloved? We all desire that kind of devotion from another human being.

We also recognize the scheming of someone like Laban. Many people take advantage of others’ best intentions. Whether Laban’s trickery is born out of compassion for his older daughter or of simple greed, he uses Jacob’s love for Rachel to create an opportunity for himself.

And how do we explain the oddest part of the story? Veil or no veil, it seems Jacob should have recognized the woman he has desired for so many years. Perhaps a little overindulgence at the celebration left Jacob vulnerable to Laban’s scheme.

Jacob’s love prevails but not with a happy ending. The years that follow bring growing animosity between Rachel and Leah, which fills their home with conflict, struggle for acceptance, and competition for attention.

Humans, with their mixed motives, make for messy love. Relationships with people we believe we can trust sometimes turn sour. Perhaps you can recall moments in your life that have been tainted by jealousy, deceit, or broken dreams.

It is in this messy world that God meets us. When we are untrustworthy, God is true. When we are impatient, God is long-suffering. When we experience disappointment, God brings hope. When human love fails, God’s love prevails.

Redeeming God, my ability to love is imperfect. Fill me with your Spirit that I may grow closer to your example of perfect love. Amen.

 

Peter Velander is executive director for strategic initiatives at Upper Room Ministries. He is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Bellevue, Tennessee.

 
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