What Communion means to me

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In the month of June at St Bride's, we are celebrating a Communion service every Sunday and hearing reflections on the meaning of this ritual of hospitality which is central to our faith. In this reflection, Our Team Vicar Mark Waters reflects on communion as remembrance of Christ.

You won’t get what communion means to me unless you understand a huge distinction between two different ways of seeing what we call communion, or mass, or eucharist, or last supper.

At one end of a spectrum are those Christians for whom communion is a memorial service.  A way of recalling – with thanksgiving – what Jesus did for the world 2000 years ago. A looking back.

At the other end of the spectrum – where I sit – communion, eucharist, what is going on when we gather to break and share bread and wine together is something very different. And it all hinges on one word – REMEMBRANCE – in Greek – ANAMNESIS: ‘Do this in anamnesis of me’. 

And the best way of understanding what ANAMNESIS means is to take the word REMEMBRANCE and put a hyphen after the first RE – so we get RE-MEMBRANCE. In communion we are re-membering something. We are re-membering Christ.  Putting Christ back together again – now!

It’s the mystery of what has been called the real presence of Christ in the eucharist. Which for me is not about saying this bread and wine actually and literally become the body of and blood of the man Jesus Christ who died 2000 years ago. It’s about saying WE are now the body of Christ. When we act out this meal together Christ is born again in our community. As St Augustine said, ‘there you are on the table, there you are in the chalice’. We are the broken body and the shed blood now brought back together in this community here and now. 

If my way of seeing communion makes sense – that the real presence of Christ is in his people – then certain things follow.  Firstly, Communion means inclusion. Because the body is not complete until all – ALL – are welcome. Communion is radical equality. It is open table for everyone. Not just those who are like me, but those too who are most unlike me. Those who I find difficult. Those who challenge my world view and my view of myself. Communion is utter welcome- for all. Often when we stand around the altar at St Dunstan’s and I look around at this small group of such real but different people gathered in our frail humanness – just as we are before one another and before God – I am moved to tears at the beauty of this broken-but-being-mended fellowship.

Secondly - communion means justice – because it recalls that one innocent death at the hands of the powerful. The bread and wine of the eucharist – the body and blood of Christ – is also the body and blood of the martyrs. In the act of receiving it I identify – however poorly and weakly – not only with Christ, but also by extension with my brothers and sisters down the centuries who have given their lives for what they believed – whatever the name of their faith. And so I cannot help but know that ultimately no-one is fully free until all are free. So communion invites me into a particular way of living in which the fight for justice is a key element.

Thirdly, Communion is union. For me communion is brokenness made whole. It is a radical solidarity with each other in which our own limitations and deficiencies, our failures and betrayals of love, are all generously -  grace-fully - overcome by what others bring to the table. Christ saves us together, not separately. We are the body of Christ.

Finally, for me communion, has a cosmic and future-oriented dimension. It is about God’s ongoing act of creation in which we are all caught up. The Roman Catholic priest and palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin, in his book Hymn of the Universe has what is for me an astonishing description of communion as Mass on the world. He wrote it in Asia, far from his native country, when he had no bread and no wine or altar and wanted to celebrate the eucharist. This is what he said, which for me sums up the idea of communion as nothing less than a sacrament of the heart of all reality:

Since once again, Lord, I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols and I will make the whole earth my altar and on it I will offer the labours and sufferings of the world. One by one, I see and live all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. And again, one by one, I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come and those who go.  All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too who will die: all of them, Lord,, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering.  Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day.  Be pleased once again to breathe a soul into the newly formed, fragile film of matter with which this day the world is freshly clothed. And over every living thing which is to spring up, to grow, to flower, to ripen during this day say again the words: 'This is my Body', And over every death-force which waits in readiness to corrode, to wither, to cut down, speak again your commanding words which express the supreme mystery of faith: 'This is my Blood'.