For the Love of Holy Communion

Reverend Francis RitchieSpiritual Disciplines2 Comments

Holy Communion

Last night I curated the small liturgical Holy Communion service I do once a month. I went through an interesting process in the lead up to it, one that I go through from time to time. You see, last night, as with most nights I do it, it was a very small group. There were three adults (not including myself) and one child. I value each of them immensely, but my ego would like there to be more people.

Holy Communion

Photo: Dale Campbell

Aside from the leadership of the church I attend and a couple of people in the congregation there has been little interest in the service (to ward off any possible thought in this direction, allow me to say I have no ill feeling about it). Because of that and the really low attendance numbers I’m continually subjected to the internal question I pose to myself – why do I bother?

That question was front and center in my mind as I drove to the venue last night and as it came very close to 7:30 (the start time) with nobody there. At that moment just before a car appeared in the car park, I was facing the question of whether I should pack up and go home or go through the liturgy and take Communion myself – a personal devotional time. I had committed to doing it by myself. I struggle with that because a lot of what I love about Holy Communion is the union with others as we partake in the presence of Christ.

As I led the liturgy in that room with those people last night though, the same thing happened that happens every time I do it – whether it be in that space or any of the other places I do it with other people like the mums I meet with once a month out in the west of the city I live in, or the homes I have done it in for others – I was extremely moved. Working through the liturgy of Holy Communion is the space where I get anywhere near close to the emotionalism often associated with Pentecostalism. The words cut to the core of my being as the Holy Spirit reminds me every single time of who I am, who God is and the nature of our union through Christ. It never gets old.

Having the small attendance forces me to remember that ultimately it’s first and foremost about that union through participation in the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion. For me it’s also about participating in that with others as we unite with the universal Church throughout history because we who are many share the one body, but there only needs to be two or three gathered for that to become meaningful.

If we subject this service to the desired outcomes and measures of a church growth model then it’s currently an abject failure. I’m coming to the realisation that for me, at this time, that’s actually a good thing (and some may hear this as a simple rationalization of poor performance… and I don’t care if that’s how some hear it) because if it were to gain a sizable attendance I know my ego would quickly make it about that audience and less about the liturgy and Holy Communion. Where it’s at is where it needs to be and if that were to change then so be it, but I will remain faithful to the liturgy and Holy Communion for their own sake, not for the sake of an audience – because it’s those things that move me, it’s those things that facilitate the chance I have to participate in the presence of Christ in those times, not the numbers in attendance to participate in that union with me. Sure, I wish to serve others by curating that same participation in the presence for them, but it’s up to others to choose whether or not that’s a service they desire and if not, so be it. My sense of being should not rise and fall on the choices others make when it comes to Holy Communion – my sense of being should derive from my own participation in it.

Last night my ego needed to be checked in at the door when participating in the liturgy and Holy Communion. May it continue to be so.

  • Peter Benzie

    Thanks for sharing and being so open once again Frank. I was drawn to read this I think because we talked about this at study group at church on Wednesday night. I had commented on how I had found the Holy Communion liturgy to be boring and predictable and so how I had struggled to maintain the view of the “specialness” of this wonderful sacrament. That feeling had been when I was part of a largish Methodist congregation where it seemed even some of the Ministers leading the service were just going through the motions. I went on to say how powerful and awe inspiring I found the EXACT SAME LITURGY when it was used in a different (and yes smaller – but that is incidental really) setting. The difference? – the approach and reverence of the Minister leading the Holy Communion liturgy. I truly felt the presence of God in a way that I hadn’t until that point when taking Holy Communion.

    Reflecting on that experience and your comments it seems to me that maybe part of the lesson is that Holy Communion is about relationship – the relationship that we have with the almighty God who chose to come to earth so that we could be in right relationship with him. The liturgy should (and does) facilitate that.

    As Ministers I think we must all own the fact that we wish there were more people present at so many of the things we do – partly out of ego sure but also because we want so many to experience what we experience – communion with an awesome, powerful loving God.

    I am reminded though that our Lord has told has that where 2 or 3 are gathered there he is in the midst. So small numbers are ok 🙂 and perhaps the low numbers are part of his bringing you to a point of recognising / remembering what Holy Communion is – remembering what he did for each of us – in preparation for leading far larger numbers in this sacrament.

    And that is why I want to say for the record that I too would have taken Holy Communion on my own as you had decided to do.

    (By the way – its interesting that – at the very moment you decided to honour and remember what Jesus Christ did for you in this way – someone else turned up. Coincidence? I think not.)

  • Thanks Francis (lol Frank/ almost added brother Francis)

    I agree for the most part- I have to admit as an Anglican I would struggle with the Eucharist being celebrated without atlest two people ie- both a presider and one other gathered (though don’t claim expertise here per say). But then you look at the life of the chanterey in english/church history where mass was said at multipul alters in unison throughout the day… it must have been an experience!

    was just reflecting before gathering with some of our young people 4 night prayer tonight in Rangiora. I agree its about the sense of stilling our busy lives before Christ.

    may the Peace of Christ be with you
    [also with you]