We Need More Cowbell! And Communion and Baptism, Part 1.

This is a two-part post. This post focuses on communion. Second post focuses on baptism. 

Entrance into the UCC National Offices

Entrance into the UCC National Offices

In September I went to Cleveland, the city that rocks, for a UCC clergy conversation on the sacraments. I was invited by my beloved liturgical co-conspirator, Sue Blain, who I met while I was at Union and worked at The Riverside Church.  Sue had just left Union as the Director of Worship to head-up worship at Riverside and working with Sue was part of my work-study job. One of my tasks–organize Sue’s paper files!

Sue is now the Minister for Worship and Formation for the UCC, working in Cleveland at the UCC’s Church House.

Sue and Ivy Beckwith, Faith Formation Team Leader, gathered about 10 UCC clergy for a 2-day conversation on the sacraments. Christopher Grundy, Associate Professor of Worship and Preaching at Eden Seminary, led us in an initial conversation about the words of institution. Prior to gathering, he sent us this article to read: “Is There A Liturgical Text In This Gospel?: The Institution Narratives And Their Early Interpretive Communities” by Andrew Bain McGowan.

Here are some takeaways from the article:

  1. The earliest Eucharistic prayers might not have included the words of institution at all. The Eucharist of the Didache and Justin Martyr, both of the second century, have extended prayers of thanksgiving but do not include the words of institution that we find in the words of Paul to the community of Corinth.
     
  2. The words of institution need to be looked at as form and function within the Corinth community. What role did those words play? What was their function? How do the words of Paul show the interplay between text and ritual within community? How do we look at those words of Paul, the words of Jesus at the last supper in the context of ancient communities of interpretation? Asking these questions, according to McGowan, allows us to approach the words of institution and the narrative with a broader viewpoint.
     
  3. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?”(10:16). This indicates Paul offering the cup before the bread, as did the Didache which is a different narrative than the last supper.  

    Paul presents these words as a reminder, not as something new, which can lead us to imagine the community at Corinth had already been hearing this narrative from Paul, different than the meal narrative described in the Gospels.
     
  4. Justin Martyr’s prayer was an extended prayer of thanksgiving over bread and cup, not a recitation of the institution narrative. For Justin and his community, the institution narrative was not so much a narrow liturgical function. The institution narrative operated as more of tool of teaching with regard to liturgy.

Takeaway: The words of institution that we read in the last supper narrative probably aren’t the exact words of Jesus. The early communities took those words and re-shaped them to form, teach, and interpret their own communities.

Communion Table for our UCC communion

Communion Table for our UCC communion

How do we keep our connection to the most ancient of words and the sacrament while forming the words that teach and interpret our own communities?

What would it mean for us to tell the Road to Emmaus story as the words of institution in addition to the Jesus narrative? What if we didn’t have these clear cut moments in communion–“He poured the cup.” Pour! “He broke the bread.” Break! That’s one way of sharing the story. Telling the Road to Emmaus would create new choices, new interpretations of when to pour, when to break.

Which then led me to wonder about what makes the bread and cup move from ordinary to sacramental? We had a conversation about the Epiclesis, the invocation or calling down from the most high of the Holy Spirit and for some that is the vital moment in the act of preparation for communion. I know there isn’t “the” moment, there isn’t “a” moment for Protestants when poof bread and cup go from ordinary to holy.

Amistad Chapel in the UCC National Office Building

Amistad Chapel in the UCC National Office Building

But we’ve put SO MUCH emphasis on the words of institution as “the” moment AND these words seemed to be tied to who can be at the table to break bread and pour the cup–ordained or non-ordained. If the early church took the freedom to stay close to the narrative of Jesus yet transfigured the words as a means of teaching about participation in the ways of Christ, then why do we sometimes feel so cemented to those words and that moment in the communion liturgy?

We had communion as part of our gathering. After gathering around the font, we moved our way to the communion table and did this communion liturgy. Our words of institution were improvisational, flowing out of the thanksgivings that came out of the prayer. Sue created this prayer for another setting and we adapted it to our gathering.

 

Come to the Table

Leader: This table offers nourishment we need to grow in love, in Christ, in Community.

This is an open table, no exceptions.

All are welcome.

This communion liturgy creates space for all of us to build the Communion Prayer together. It follows the format of a classic communion prayer, beginning with thanksgiving to God for Creation and covenant community, then moving on to thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of God-with-us, Jesus, and then calling on the Spirit to transform the elements and us who share them into one body in Christ.  The leader prompts the outline of the prayer, but the prayer takes it shape from the way the people gathered remember and tell the story.

Leader: Let us tell the story of God:

In this world God made, we give thanks for…..

Congregation calls out thanksgivings for creation.

After thanksgivings are shared, the musician leads the song:

Song:  Bread is bro-ken, eyes are o-pened, ris-en life, O Je-sus Christ!  (2x)

Leader:

Let us give thanks to God

for the prophets that God sent in ancient times and in our time….

Congregation calls out prophets of long ago and now

Song:  Bread is bro-ken, eyes are o-pened, ris-en life, O Je-sus Christ!  (2x)

Leader:

And let us give thanks for the radical one, Jesus, who…

Congregation calls out deeds and acts of Jesus during his life and ministry

Song:  Bread is bro-ken, eyes are o-pened, ris-en life, O Je-sus Christ!  (2x)

Leader:

And on that night before Jesus died he took bread

Congregation finishes the story and the words of institution for the bread including breaking the bread

Song:  Bread is bro-ken, eyes are o-pened, ris-en life, O Je-sus Christ!  (2x)

Leader:

And in the same way after supper, Jesus took a cup…

Congregation finishes the words for the cup including pouring the cup

Song:  Bread is bro-ken, eyes are o-pened, ris-en life, O Je-sus Christ!  (2x)

Leader:

And let us give thanks for the power of the Holy Spirit

who will use these gifts to transform our lives

Congregation calls out gifts of the Holy Spirit

Song:  Bread is bro-ken, eyes are o-pened, ris-en life, O Je-sus Christ!  (2x)

Sharing of the Bread and the Cup (the table was full of cups and breads, we all served each other). 

“Bread is Broken” from Sing! Prayer and Praise.  Words:  Sidney Fowler; Tune: Richard Bruxfoort Colligan.  Reproduced under OneLicense #A-719582

Service adapted from “Yes, Let’s”!: An Intergenerational Service of Communion, written by the Rev. Ashley Goff, an ordained UCC minister serving at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA), Washington, DC.