Holy Communion at Emmaus

(We wrote and discussed the following position paper in late 2004 when our church was gathering as a small group in a home.)

Our desire is to view and share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion in a way that is grounded in God’s Word, shaped by Early Church practice and teaching, and in harmony with Nazarene tradition.  Our hope (and challenge) is to express our view and practice of Communion in a way that best communicates the truth and mystery of this Sacrament to our culture so that it takes its rightful place as central to one’s transformational experience.  

Word

1Cor 10:14-22

/16/ The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? /17/ Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.


1Cor 11:23-25

/23/ For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, /24/ and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” /25/ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”


Mark 14:22-25 
/22/ While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body. /23/ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. /24/ He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. /25/ Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

= Matt 26:26-29
/26/ While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” /27/ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; /28/ for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. /29/ I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

= Luke 22:15-19a[19b-20]
/15/ He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; /16/ for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” /17/ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; /18/ for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” /19/ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” /20/ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

John 6:51b-58

/51b/ … and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” /52/ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” /53/ So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. /54/ Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; /55/ for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. /56/ Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. /57/ Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. /58/ This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Luke 24:30-35

/30/ When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  /31/ Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.  /32/ They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  /33/  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.  There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together /34/ and saying, “It is true!  The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon,”  /35/ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Early Church

 Didache 9 (about 70 ad)

/9:1/ As for thanksgiving, give thanks this way.
/2/ First, with regard to the cup:
“We thank you, our Father, For the holy vine of David your servant, which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be glory forever.”
/3/ And with regard to the Bread:
“We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant.
To you be glory forever.
/4/ As this < … > lay scattered upon the mountains and became one when it had been gathered, so may your church be gathered into your kingdom from the ends of the earth. For glory and power are yours, through Jesus Christ, forever.”
/5/ Let no-one eat or drink of your thanksgiving [meal] save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord,
since the Lord has said concerning this, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs.”  

Irenaeus (180 ad)

For the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist – consisting of two realities, earthy and heavenly.  So also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.  

[The wine and bread] having received the Word of God, become the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ.  

Clement of Alexandria (195 ad)

Those who by faith partake of [the Eucharist] are sanctified both in body and soul.

Origen (248 ad)

And this bread becomes by prayer a sacred body, which sanctifies those who sincerely partake of it.

Cyprian (250 ad)

…but may fortify them with the protection of Christ’s body and blood.  For the Eucharist is appointed for this very purpose.

They drink the cup of Christ’s blood daily, for the reason that they themselves also may be able to shed their blood for Christ.  

Justin Martyr (160 ad)

And no one is allowed to partake of it but the one who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is living as Christ has recommended.

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place.  And the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits.  Then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs us and we all rise together and pray.  And as we said before, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought.  Then, the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability.  And the people assent, saying, “Amen.” Then [the Eucharist] is distributed to everyone, and everyone participates in that over which thanks have been given.  And a portion of it is sent by the deacons to those who are absent.  

Tertullian (211 ad)

…We feel pained should any wine or bread fall on the ground…

Dionysius of Alexandria (262 ad)

The boy ran for the presbyter.  But it was night and the presbyter was sick and was, as a result, unable to come.  However, I had issued an injunction that persons at the point of death, if they requested it, …should be absolved in order that they might depart this life in cheerful hope.  So the presbyter gave the boy a small portion of the Eucharist, telling him to steep it in water and drop it into the old man’s mouth.  

Church of the Nazarene Tradition

Though the Church of the Nazarene, like most other American Evangelical Churches, has drifted in the last half century toward a view and practice of Communion more reflective of Free Church or Baptist Church theology, its roots were distinctly sacramental.  

Sacramental Roots

The Church of the Nazarene traces its roots through John Wesley’s Methodism to the Anglican Church.  Both Methodism and Anglicanism have embraced a very high view of Communion.  Indeed, the Eucharist is seen more as a sacrament than as a simple “memorial.”   Christ’s presence is believed to dwell with the consecrated elements; His sanctifying presence and life-giving grace is received by faith.

Early Nazarene Practice

There is ample evidence that Phineas Bresee, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene, strove to maintain a view and practice of Communion that fell well-within the Anglican/Methodist tradition.  For example, in the first Nazarene Manual , parishioners were instructed to kneel when receiving Communion.  This symbolic practice had, at the end of the 19th Century, become somewhat of a sign of distinction between those who viewed Communion as a sacrament containing Christ’s real presence and those in the Free Church movement who viewed Communion primarily as memorial and received it while seated.  

The Call to the Table

The ritual used for the Church’s celebration of Communion has remained unchanged for its 100 year history and reflects a sacramental understanding.  It reads, in part, “This is His table.  The feast is for His disciples.  Let all those who have with true repentance forsaken their sins, and have believed in Christ unto salvation draw near and take these emblems, and, by faith, partake of the life of Jesus Christ, to you soul’s comfort and joy…

Experiencing Truth 

Senses

Human beings were created with six senses.  And each of us perceives reality through each of these senses.  The difference between understanding  something and truly knowing  something is experience.  A person may understand grief simply by reading a book.  But grief is not truly known by a person until they have experienced it, until grief has affected their senses. 

Symbol

A symbol is a sign or object that represents or communicates the significance of a larger truth.  When something is too complex or deep or mysterious to rationalize, we symbolize it.  So a computer program is symbolized with an icon.  Marriage is symbolized with a ring.  And the mystery of forgiveness, redemption, and friendship with God is symbolized in Holy Communion.  More than just summarizing a truth, a symbol actually communicates that truth.  And through symbol we encounter that truth again and again.  In other words, the ring on my left hand is just a ring…but it’s more than a ring because of what it communicates.  And the bread and wine of Communion is just bread and wine…but it’s more than bread and wine because of what it communicates, because of the reality that we encounter when we experience it in faith.  

Tradition

Another way we experience truth is through tradition or repetition.  When some truth is highly valued we “make it a tradition” and rehearse or relive it again and again.  In so doing, the tradition and all the truth it holds becomes part of our hearts, part of who we are.  When God instructed Israel to hold a festival, the point was to remember, rehearse, and relive a critical truth so that it would become embedded deep within their souls and their culture.  

Bringing it together

The story of the central event of the Old Testament: the “Exodus” of Israel from slavery in Egypt, begins with God instructing Moses about the very first “Passover.”  The people of Israel were told to slaughter a lamb, spread its blood on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses, and share a very specific meal.  God then “passed-over” these houses and saved them from the most terrible of plagues.  This was a completely multi-sensory experience.  It was highly symbolic.  And before it even took place God commanded that it become a tradition: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance” Ex. 11:14.  This is the way God communicates truth.  This is how we are created to experience it.  The regular practice of receiving Communion is a multi-sensory, highly symbolic tradition that beautifully communicates the essential truth of our faith to our souls.  

Post-modern Culture

Emmaus Church Community is being birthed into a culture and time in history that is ripe for a worship experience that includes the weekly celebration of Holy Communion.  Our culture is longing to experience spiritual reality, not just hear about doctrine.  In a day when everything is new but nothing lasts, people are gravitating toward ancient spiritual practices.  People are searching for an experience or an encounter – something they can feel –  that deeply affects and brings significance to their lives.  We are all longing for the transcendent, for the real, for something much bigger than ourselves.  Not only is there strong Biblical, historical, traditional, and anthropological support for the consistent and regular practice of Communion, but it also just makes sense as we listen honestly to the cries of our present culture.  

Communion at Emmaus

In this early, formative stage of development, we are careful to hold all structure loosely.  But we imagine responding, in our worship gatherings, to the weekly preaching of God’s Word with a time of thanksgiving (Latin: Eucharist) centered around the Lord’s Supper.  In this time we will remember the significance of the death of Jesus Christ.  We will affirm our faith in Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Coming King.  And we will invite all who acknowledge their need for grace and are willing to follow Jesus to come forward to receive Communion to their soul’s “comfort and joy.”

Nathan Oates 10.06.04