In today’s scripture reading, Jesus shares a final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, and it is during this meal that he institutes the practice of Communion. The passage begins with Jesus taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to his disciples, saying, "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26, ESV). He then takes a cup of wine, gives thanks, and offers it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28, ESV). Jesus is using the elements of bread and wine to symbolize his body and blood, which will be sacrificed for the redemption of humanity.
This act of sharing bread and wine, known as the Lord's Supper or Communion, serves as a tangible reminder of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and is considered a means of grace. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, identified the Lord's Supper as one of the "means of grace," practices that would allow believers to be transformed by the love of God while growing closer to God.
At the heart of Wesley's understanding of the Lord's Supper is the concept of "prevenient grace." Prevenient grace is the idea that God's grace goes before us, drawing us toward God even before we are aware of it. In the context of the Lord's Supper, this means that God's grace is present in the elements—bread and wine—and in the act of Communion itself.
Wesley viewed the Lord's Supper as a means by which God communicates God’s grace to believers in a profound way. This sacrament is not merely a symbolic ritual but a channel through which God's grace is revealed, nourishing the spiritual life of the individual and the community.
For Wesley, the Lord's Supper was a participatory event, an active engagement with the divine. He emphasized the importance of approaching the table with faith and a repentant heart, recognizing the transformative power of God's grace in the act of Communion.
The table, according to Wesley, is a place where believers can experience a real encounter with Jesus. For a moment, I want you to picture a gathering place filled with the warmth of friendship.
Picture Jesus taking an ordinary loaf of bread into his hands. His eyes, filled with compassion, meet the gaze of each disciple as he blesses the bread. In that moment, something extraordinary happens — the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
As Jesus breaks the bread, imagine the stillness in the room as the sound of the bread breaking echoes the forthcoming brokenness of Christ's own body on the cross. Each disciple receives a piece of this bread, a tangible reminder of the tangible sacrifice that Christ is about to make.
Then, as the disciples continue to fix their eyes upon Jesus, he lifts a cup of wine. The color of the wine is rich and deep symbolizing the blood that will soon be shed for the forgiveness of sins. He speaks words of dedication, and suddenly, this cup of wine is more than just a drink — it becomes an indicator of God’s unwavering love.
As the disciples partake, imagine the taste of the bread and wine lingering on their pallets, a taste that transcends the physical and touches the depths of their souls. In that moment, they are not simply consuming bread and wine; they are partaking in a practice that is sacred, and life altering. THIS IS WHAT GRACE TASTES LIKE. Consider how the disciples must have felt as they participated in this meal. How would you feel if you were sitting at the table?
When we participate in communion, it’s as if we’re placed in this scene. We are not distant observers but actively involved in this sacred feast. The bread and wine remain true symbols of God's grace, inviting us to taste and see that the Lord is good. As we partake of the bread and wine, God calls us to experience, just as the disciples did, the power of Christ's sacrifice and the richness of His love that never ends and never fails. The Lord's Supper is not just an historical event; it is a present reality, an invitation to be one with our Savior and be nurtured by the grace he has to offer us.
At the table, we meet a God that seeks a relationship with us, a God that seeks to walk with us, to be present with us as we celebrate the joys of life and also while we endure life’s challenges. The table reveals to us who God is and how much God cares.
The table is a place where all are welcome. At the table, all are seen and valued. At the table, all are reminded that God’s grace is sufficient and available to everyone, no matter who we are, not matter how we have fallen short.
THERE TRULY IS SOMETHING ABOUT GOD’S GRACE
In the Christian context, grace is the unmerited favor and love of God that brings salvation to believers. The Lord's Supper is a symbol of Christ's sacrificial love. Jesus instructs his disciples to partake in the bread and wine "in remembrance of him.” This act of remembrance allows believers to reflect on the love and grace demonstrated through Christ's death on the cross.
It is a celebration of unity with Christ and fellow believers. In partaking of the same elements, believers express their oneness with Christ and with one another as members of the body of Christ. This communal aspect of the Lord’s Supper emphasizes the shared experience of God's grace within the Christian community.
The Lord's Supper is also a means of spiritual nourishment. Just as physical bread sustains the body, the spiritual significance of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper sustains and nourishes the soul. It is a moment of encounter with the living Christ, inviting believers to experience the ongoing transformative power of God's grace.
In Elaine Heath’s book, Five Means of Grace, she references Henri Nouwen’s 4 movements in the Christian life drawn from the metaphor of the bread and wine. Referencing Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, she says we are taken, blessed, broken, and given. We are gathered into community something like a multigrain loaf. God kneads us into one loaf and blesses us, forgiving us of our sins and setting us on a path of healing and reconciliation. At the benediction God breaks the loaf of our community into many pieces by sending us forth to embody Jesus in world. As communities of faith, we become the communion bread that God gives the world.
The concept of being "taken" underscores the very intentional act of God gathering individuals into a community, likened to a multigrain loaf. This imagery emphasizes the diversity within the community, each person contributing to the richness of the whole. Recognizing this communal gathering is foundational for faith communities, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose.
The second movement, being "blessed," signifies God's transformative work within the community. Through the divine act of blessing, God forgives sins, initiating a process of healing and reconciliation. This emphasizes the significance of communal worship and the sacraments as means through which grace is bestowed, fostering spiritual growth and renewal.
The third movement, "broken," speaks to the inevitable challenges and struggles that communities face. Heath suggests that, like a loaf of bread, communities experience brokenness. However, this brokenness is not a sign of failure but an opportunity for God's grace to abound. It underscores the redemptive nature of hardship and the potential for growth through shared vulnerability and support.
Finally, the movement of being "given" is a pivotal aspect of Christian mission. At the benediction, God sends forth the community to embody the teachings of Jesus in the world. The community, having experienced being taken, blessed, and broken, is now called to be a source of blessing for others. This outward focus aligns with the core Christian mandate to love and serve the world beyond the faith community's borders.
The goal is not for us to experience grace and be transformed by it simply for our sake. We have these encounters with God so that we can go out into the world and show the world what it looks like to experience the grace and transformation that Christ has to offer. We, as communities of faith, become manifestations of God’s power and presence. We become God’s vessels, God’s hands and feet, sources of healing and reconciliation. Sources of justice and advocacy. Transformation for us is not the end, it’s actually the beginning.
Earlier, I mentioned the table and the fact that it’s a place where all are welcome. And I’m gonna say this again. ALL PEOPLE ARE WELCOME AT THE TABLE. Not simply the people who look like us and share similar backgrounds. Not simply the people who agree with us on politics and theology. Not simply the people who have never offended us before. And let’s remember that at Jesus’ table, there was one he knew would betray him.
Elaine Heath talks about the beauty of the OPEN TABLE. She says one of the notable aspects of Methodist faith and practice is the open table or the practice of inviting any and all who wish to partake. The liturgy issues this invitation. Christ our lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Wesley believed that even if persons didn’t know Christ, they could come to know Christ’s salvation in the act of Holy Communion if their hearts longed to know him and they came to the table with that hunger.
One thing that we must consider as Jesus followers is how we are nurturing and advocating for the OPEN TABLE. We like to say that we are welcoming, but is that really true? How do we know that for sure?
This moment serves as a perfect time to consider if there is more that God may be calling us to do in order to affirm the truth about the table so that more people in our communities can feel welcomed and experience God’s loving embrace.
Let us rejoice and give thanks that God’s grace is sufficient for each and every one of us. And the moment we finally experience this grace is not the ending to our story of grace. It’s just the beginning.
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT