Episode 231:  The Means of Grace – Hope in Holy Communion

May 24, 2022

Holy Communion Transforming Mission

This week as we focus on the sacrament of Holy Communion as a means of grace. You already know that the sacrament of Holy Communion is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It’s a sign of God’s love for us. It’s a moment to be formed into the imago Dei. 

Like the previous means of grace we’ve explored, Holy Communion is about a relationship with the living God we know in Jesus. It’s an opportunity to encounter God’s love, experience forgiveness, and be shaped into the person God is inviting us to be.  

Wesley reminded us Holy Communion is “the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God” (Sermon 26: Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount”)

As a means of grace, the “duty of constant communion” can bring objections from some. You’ve likely heard something like “if we celebrate Holy Communion too frequently, it will lose its power as being special.”

Holy Communion: An Encounter with Grace

What if instead, the opportunity to encounter God’s goodness and grace is a moment to experience the love of God we know in Jesus? What if each time we come to the table we’re shaped to be more like Jesus? What if each encounter with God’s grace fills us with grace? 

As you can probably tell, Tim and Sara are with Wesley on this one. The “duty” of constant communion may bring about objections, but the goodness of God’s love can’t be contained. 

Five Common Objections

In this episode, we explore five common objections to the sacrament of Holy Communion and Wesley’s teaching on Holy Communion. All as a reminder that as United Methodists, the sacrament of Holy Communion is a means of grace to embrace. 

There is hope at Christ’s Table. May you experience God’s forgiveness and steadfast love each and every time you participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. 

Means of Grace Series

Missed the other episodes on the means of grace? Find them here:

Episode 227 – The Means of Grace: Where Hope Abounds

Episode 228 – Misunderstanding the Means of Grace  – There’s Still Hope

Episode 229 – The Means of Grace: Searching the Scripture

Episode 230 – The Means of Grace: Prayer

Learn More

Wesley’s Sermons:

Episode 231


[00:00:00] sara: You're listening to Leadercast episode 231.

[00:00:04] You're listening to Leader cast, Transforming Mission's podcast with Tim Bias and Sara Thomas. Providing you with resources to navigate the challenges and opportunities of courageous Christ- centered leaders

[00:00:20] tim: So I have a question for you today. Can you celebrate the sacrament of holy communion too often? Now, before you answer that question, I want you to listen to this.

[00:00:31] sara: We're going to have some fun with this episode. I can tell, as a reminder, you can find resources for this.

[00:00:37] episode on the show notesPage@transformingmission.org forward slash 2 3, 1. And that's a great place to send people. I heard that question. Can you celebrate holy communion too often?

[00:00:51] tim: Today, we're continuing the series of hope and the means of grace. And we've been focusing upon two areas in this series. Number one. To encourage you as Christ centered leaders, to tend to your faith formation and number two, to revisit the means of grace as a source of.

[00:01:12] sara: In each episode, we're exploring one big idea as well as answering to. What's the leadership message. And where is hope? Now let's go back to your question, Tim, can you celebrate holy communion too often before I scream my answer, let me start by saying I've heard some express frustration with the frequency of.

[00:01:35] celebrating the sacrament of holy communion

[00:01:39] tim: and so have I individuals from different branches of our United Methodist tradition celebrated well, some celebrated quarterly, some annually not monthly or weekly. I guess it takes all kinds.

[00:01:55] sara: So.

[00:01:56] the question that that raises for me is what does celebrating the sacrament of holy communion, monthly or weekly do, and at the risk of answering my own question, some might argue that it makes it routine or less special. I'd argue though, celebrating holy communion less frequently makes it less important.

[00:02:19] tim: Well, before we start answering. As a reminder this week, we focus on holy communion. I feel the need to start by saying holy communion is a sacrament. A sacrament is an outward invisible sign of an inward and spiritual grace sign of God's love for us. It's a moment to be formed into the image of God.

[00:02:45] can keep going. It's a means of grace.

[00:02:48] sara: So I'm going to bring that question that you started off the episode with back to us again. Can you celebrate holy communion too frequently? Let me ask you a different question. If last week I celebrated holy communion two times during the week and the week before I celebrated holy communion, three times in one day.

[00:03:08] Is that too much? I'd say.

[00:03:12] tim: If anything, we may not celebrate the sacrament of holy communion, often enough. you know, I've heard over the years people that felt like that celebrating holy communion once a month was. Was almost too much because they were going to lose the impact of, of the experience. reminded us that holy communion is the grand channel whereby the grace of his spirit was conveyed to the souls of all children of God.

[00:03:45] I guess what he's saying is the more often we celebrate holy communion, the better off we might be.

[00:03:53] sara: You just answered my question. So, so continuing down that line, Tim, what's the message for Christ centered leaders.

[00:04:06] tim: Well, I, I think if we go back to Wesley, he'd say the the message is the duty of constant communion. Those would be his words. Now, before we start objecting, let's explore why at the risk of being repetitive, which I do a lot on these podcasts. We've established holy communion as a means of grace. And one of the things about holy communion is it's also a command of God.

[00:04:33] Jesus said, do this in remembrance of me do this is a command. So Wesley said it, this. The first reason why it's a duty of every Christian, so to do is

[00:04:51] because

[00:04:52] sara: Wesley, the time that he was ready again.

[00:04:56] tim: yeah, yeah. Try to, well, that's, that's a discipline in itself reading John Wesley. So the first reason why it's the duty of every Christian, so to do is because it is a plain command of Christ. That this is his command appears from the words of the text, do this in remembrance of me.

[00:05:20] sara: I don't know that I've got anything else on that one, but I do have another one. The sacrament of holy communion is transformative. Wesley said, it's this way. Celebrate, holy communion, as often as you can. And now I'm quoting Wesley the benefits of doing it are so great to all to do it in obedience, to him

[00:05:40] For the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls, I'd call that.

[00:05:49] tim: And I would to o so the participation in holy communion as not only being a command, but being transformative. Is that as often as we are participating, we are not only following the command, but we're being transformed into who God created us to be. We find our forgiveness, we find our way, we find our relationship.

[00:06:14] And, as it says, do this in remembrance of me, we all, we all know that remembering is. Remembering something that once happened, the word is bringing it back to the present. So we're remembering bringing back to the present this love of God that's come at that has come to us to help us. Not only love God, but to love one another and would celebrating a means of grace on a daily basis.

[00:06:45] Which brings into our presence. Again, be something we wouldn't want to do. I think as often as we could celebrate God's presence and being reminded of God's love for us and our love for others, we would want to do that as often as possible

[00:07:05] sara: yes, and you and I both know. And so to our listeners still, there are objections that happen. So what we want to do for the remainder of this episode is name a few of those objections. And we'll do it this way. I'll name an objection. And Tim, if you'll name the leadership challenge or reframe what is being said a little bit, and we'll go back and forth for a little bit on these objections.

[00:07:32] Is that okay?

[00:07:34] tim: Sure Sara I'll do whatever you say.

[00:07:39] sara: Okay, so

[00:07:40] tim: That's.

[00:07:41] sara: so the first objection is. I am unworthy and we're drawing these objections, objections from Wesley sermon, the duty of constant communion. And here's what he had to say. The most common objection is I am worthy and he that Edith and drinketh unworthily Edith and drink in damnation to himself.

[00:08:05] Therefore, I dare not communicate, participate in holy communion, I should eat and drink my own damnation.

[00:08:15] tim: So when you participate in the communion liturgy, you recognize that holy communion is a gift of grace. God's mercy is offered in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup God's forgiveness is offered. So to anyone who would say I'm unworthy the message of holy communion. You are worthy my love and my forgiveness.

[00:08:41] And in fact, what we're bringing back to the present, it seems to me is what makes us worthy. It's Jesus. So Wesley would have said the case is this. God offers you one of the greatest mercies on this side of heaven and command you to accept. Why do you not accept this mercy and obedience to his command?

[00:09:08] Sara, second objection is I haven't prepared to receive it.

[00:09:13] sara: So I'm gonna jump right to Wesley's words here, because I think you said it.

[00:09:18] beautifully, all the preparation that is absolutely necessary is contained in these words, repent you truly of your past sins faith in Christ are safe. Uh, Amend lives and be in charity with all people. Yes. I changed that from men.

[00:09:37] so ye shall meet of these holy mysteries. that last part you may be saying what, in other words, you've already prepared those words, repent and believe the good news Christ died for you while you were still sinners. That proves God's love for us. There's nothing more that you need to prepare. Is there anything more you want to say about that one, Tim, before I move on to the third objection.

[00:10:05] tim: Nope, let's go.

[00:10:06] sara: Okay.

[00:10:07] The third objection against constant communion is that it threatens our reverence for the sacrament.

[00:10:13] tim: Yes. I've heard that one a lot. I'm going to give a good Greek word for. Bologna

[00:10:21] And reading Wesley, if you're afraid, the newness of holy communion is going to wear off west way. He might not say it this way, but my interpretation of what it says. Yeah. So. That happens with everything. Do you stop bathing because it's not new do no that you stop eating because it's not new. No, it said you see what it does.

[00:10:42] Food fuels our bodies, cleanses our skin. These may be dumb comparisons, but

[00:10:52] when I stop and think about it,

[00:10:54] When you do it more and more, you appreciate it more. And that's the case of holy communion sara. I was jumping through that one pretty quickly. You ready for the next one? Fourth objection, Wesley speaks to is I've communicated constantly so long, I've not found the benefit I expected.

[00:11:15] sara: Yeah, that one is interesting to me because if you've encountered God at the table, how can you say that? And if you haven't encountered God in the sacrament of holy communion, As a means of grace, the prevenient justifying grace of God is still at work. You're just not aware of it yet. And the other thing that I would offer is that grace.

[00:11:44] Isn't a feeling. There are times that I confess, I engage in any of the means of grace and think, okay, God, whatever. But at the very same time, usually it doesn't take very long like, God's reaching out his hands and doing that little loving wack upside, my head.

[00:12:04] And I do the okay. God, I've got it now. I don't know. What, what do you want to offer on that one? Tim? What am I missing in people saying I I've done this so often that I haven't found benefit. It's like there should be a reward for participating in holy communion, which theologically. I just have a hard time understanding.

[00:12:24] tim: well, I don't understand when people, when they say that, and usually it's not people who are participating. Uh, Using means of grace. That's usually how often it's they participate in and worship with the Lord's supper or holy communion. And I got to a point when people would say that it wasn't a whole lot of times, but I got to the point where they would say, and it's just what we've said before that if you celebrated it more often, you would appreciate it more.

[00:12:55] And so. You appreciate it more, the less you participate. I think the more often you participate, the more you appreciate it.

[00:13:06] sara: Are we ready for the last objection?

[00:13:10] tim: Sure.

[00:13:13] sara: This one was interesting to me because I had forgotten that this was said in the early days of Methodism, the fifth objection that some have made against constant communion is the church. Enjoins it. Only three times.

[00:13:29] tim: Well, I'm going to quote Wesley here because I can't say it any better. Another way of saying that is I'll blame Wesley. We obey the church only for God. And shall we not obey God himself? And for the record, the statement of the church was that every parishioner shall communicate, participate in holy communion, least three times a year.

[00:13:58] Think Wesley's words to the church are note that every parishioner shall participate at least three times a year. Maybe the answer first is what if the church had not enjoined at all? Is it not enough that God enjoys it? We obey the church only for God's sake. And shall we not obey God himself?

[00:14:24] I, I can say is again I find it difficult and I live in a world this way. So I find it difficult that we reduce everything down to, how many times do we have to participate? That's all we need to do.

[00:14:41] sara: Yeah.

[00:14:43] tim: and that's, that's where I come out on that.

[00:14:46] sara: I would have to go back and, and do more research on this, but I think. I think how it was presented was that I'm thinking about the participation in the class meetings and the bands and how Wesley than how it was set up, that your participation in those formation group.

[00:15:12] We're what gave you the opportunity participate in holy communion? Am I remembering that correctly? And so if, if by stating your to participate in holy communion, at least three times a year, there is an expectation there of being in formation community. That will lead you to the place where you can participate in holy communion.

[00:15:42] And there's that wonderful little phrase there. At least he said at the least, but we dropped the, the at least three times a year. It didn't say only three times a year or three times a year or less. And so, you know, you named it. Why are we trying to put numbers on something that.

[00:16:04] God is intending as. Would we do that with anything else?

[00:16:10] tim: well, you wouldn't do it with the sunshine. Oh God. You've already given us five days of sunshine. Don't give us any more.

[00:16:19] sara: Right.

[00:16:21] tim: I'm sorry. I, that sounds smart. Alec.

[00:16:24] sara: and, and you wouldn't do it. You wouldn't do it with God's love God. You've already loved me so much up, up to this point. Don't love me anymore. And that's, that's essentially what you're saying. If you're not willing to participate in holy communion

[00:16:40] as Christ center leaders, whether you need these reminders for yourself or the people that you lead. Let me just remind you. Holy communion is a means of grace as such. We experience God's mercy. God's steadfast love, and God's empowering love all in one moment. There's hope at Christ's table. So Tim, what else would you like to offer to the leaders that are listening to this episode as a word of.

[00:17:08] tim: Sara, I think sometimes when when people say that they're not worthy or we only need to do it four times four times a year or whatever. It is something that we check off a box. So it's not really a means of grace at that point. I mean, from God's perspective, it's still a means of grace, but for us while we've done all we need to do and we need to get onto something else.

[00:17:35] And I think we forget that, that it's in these ordinary acts. And if we just say breaking up. Just in the sorority ordinary acts of breaking of bread, and then in the S in the symbolic way of holy communion, that we're actually remembering that God is with us. God loves us. God's with us, with the people around us, we can experience God and the people around us to say that we don't need to do that is a major way of missing the point.

[00:18:05] To say that it's takes up too much time in worship is to miss the point to say that we're going to miss it's not, it's going to be too common for us that it's not going to have the importance that it has. It's using a common element to let us know that God loves us in the first. So that's where I am with this.

[00:18:26] And I've not always been very gracious, even though I'm participating in a means of grace with people who say I'm not worthy because who in the world are any one of us that's worthy. There are none of us that are worthy.

[00:18:47] It's when

[00:18:47] sara: gift.

[00:18:50] tim: It's those of us who come thinking we are worthy that are drinking our damnation, as Wesley said,

[00:18:58] sara: Oh, watch out. He's quoting Wesley now.

[00:19:03] tim: Well, I didn't do it very well throughout the episode, but I can right now you know, I've, I know churches that had holy communion on Wednesdays because the people who remember who were not members of the church could not participate. only members only on Wednesday nights. That's not holy communion.

[00:19:22] sara: That's an exclusive club.

[00:19:24] tim: That's a, that's a, ritual of exclusion.

[00:19:29] so that I don't know what, how much wisdom comes with that, but I, after all these years celebrating, holy communion still gets. It gets to me. And when I participate, not as one who's leading, but as one who actually is receiving, it gets to me even more. It's been pretty important to, to lead the liturgy and to but to, know that at every moment of every day, there's a God who loves me, is working for my good and.

[00:20:08] Not ever going to let me go. And at that moment I'm being reminded of that. That's that's a lot.

[00:20:15] And to make that a means of grace, how much closer can we get Great and wonderful God who the now says now, just love your neighbor the way I've been loving.

[00:20:29] sara: Those are good words, Tim bias. So I'll simply end this episode by saying this. There is hope at Christ's table. May you experience the forgiveness and steadfast love of God each and every time you participate in the sacrament of holy communion and to find show notes, including a link to Wesley sermon, where he talks about holy communion, head over to the show notesPage@transformingmission.org forward slash 2 3 1.

[00:20:56] And remember who you are is how you lead bye for now.