As another aspect of RMC’s A Year at the Table, we had the pleasure of having Dr. Malinda Berry join us on February 15 and 16, providing input on our Mennonite theology of Communion, asking new questions for Communion practice, and helping create a robust and living theology of table as a local community. She also gave the sermon on Sunday morning.
Below are a few photos from the Saturday workshop and Sunday school and worship on Sunday morning.
Photos credits: David Rohrer and Stan North Martin
During renovations to the building at 1116 N. Blount St., we are meeting for Sunday School and Worship at Fletcher Academy’s campus at 400 Cedarview Ct., north of Millbrook between Six Forks and Falls of the Neuse.
Here are a few images from our first Sunday there, Feb. 2, 2020.
Throughout history communion has been wrought with conflict. Heated debate focused on:
Who can participate?
Who can officiate?
What’s required to prepare for communion?
What elements are used?
What process occurs in those who partake?
Is Christ in the host (bread) or only there with his “real presence?”
Is communion necessary for salvation?
Through the centuries, communion was deemed so important that groups of worshipers split or refused to worship together over their differences. Luther and Zwingli met to agree on the meaning of communion and, by doing so, unite German and Swiss reform movements. But they failed. In fact, emotions ran so high that, in parting, Luther refused to shake Zwingli’s hand.
Our visit to Christian base communities in El Salvador showed me that the questions above miss the point. There people celebrated communion creatively and joyfully, then got busy being the body of Christ, helping those on the fringes and working for social justice.
Communion in the San José Villanueva Christian base community, where pound cake served as the communion element.
Celebration of communion in the San Ramón Christian base community, where birthday cake served as the communion element.
The key question then is: What happens after communion? However we practice communion, what is the result of remembering Jesus Christ, of being in his presence, or of partaking of his body? So here are the important questions about communion:
Are we feeding the hungry? Are we visiting those in prison? Are we caring for the sick? Are we welcoming the excluded? Are we rooting out systemic injustice? Are we peacemakers?
In her article, “Communion—a brief historical/theological summary,” Sara Wenger Shank writes, “they gathered to break bread together and scattered to offer that ‘bread’ to the world. Outsiders were invited in. The ‘supper’ was a participation not only in Jesus’ death, but also an encounter with his living presence.”
Our short time in El Salvador left me with a lot to process and a lot to reflect on, much of which I haven’t even tried to begin to put into words. I can’t honestly say that I really put much thought into Communion before our congregation started asking questions and making it a part of regular conversation. It’s a routine practice that I had simply taken for granted having grown up going to church regularly. I noticed different variances as I got older and found my “home church” in several different denominations over the years, but usually found myself taking a quick sip of wine from a tiny plastic cup while trying to think of the recent mistakes I made and needed to repent of.
Angel and Melissa with their hosts in Colón
Traditional hot breakfast outside Colón chapel
El Salvador was the first time that I began to see that Communion is more than a rote taking of two elements. It’s more than mini plastic cups of grape juice with stale crackers or goblets of wine with a pinch of bread. It’s a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and remembering that we are part of the active body of Christ. It is a time to remember that we are called to continuously work to meet one another’s needs and sometimes to sacrifice personal things in order to do so. In the Base Communities, the people shared much of what they had, and they shared each other’s burdens. It was no different with us. They provided the group of us, strangers in a foreign land, with a place to stay. The offered us pupusas (bread) and corn coffee (wine). They let us into their homes and into their lives. They gave us what they had to meet our needs, an example of when Christ gave what he had to meet our need of closeness with God.
There seems to true blending between hospitality and communion. I was astounded by the warm hospitality we were extended in the small Central American country. I found it a stark contrast to the superficial hospitality that the US south is known for. In a sermon preached in August 2019, Melissa Florer-Bixler said something along the lines of “within hospitality we meet the Divine.” In El Salvador, I saw a Jesus and a faith I had never previously seen or felt. I tasted a Communion different from any other before, an experience that will probably never be quite replicated again.