Taking and receiving

“When Jesus wanted to explain to his followers the meaning of his death, he didn’t give them a theory; he gave them a meal.”

So N.T. Wright says in his book How God Became King (p.238). He’s right, of course. Whether we call it Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, this meal defines who we are as followers of Jesus.

Of course, Jesus never gave full instructions on how to share the meal; just to “do it in remembrance of me.” Christians have fought over the details for nearly 2,000 years now, and I suspect we’ll march on to eternity squabbling over how the bread and wine (or grape juice) should be shared with whom under what conditions, and so on.

Lately, though, I’ve been bugged over the issue of taking versus receiving. It may be a minor point to most everyone else, but to me it’s a big deal.

The issue comes up because several weeks ago I was asked to preside at communion in two different churches on the same Sunday morning – part of a two-point charge when the pastor was away.

I observed the same thing at both churches: Some people received communion, while others took it. I served both because I had not instructed people ahead of time that I would not be serving the takers, only the receivers.

I make no moral judgments here because what people do in church is what they have been taught to do, and in my opinion many people have been poorly taught. Preachers, this is on you.

I’m also speaking solely to United Methodists and others who serve communion by intinction. That is, the celebrant gives a piece of bread to the person and the person dips the bread in the cup and then consumes the wine-soaked morsel of bread while stepping away.

It’s the attitude of the person receiving the bread that concerns me. Some people approach the celebrant with one hand slightly cupped or two slightly cupped hands held together. The celebrant can then drop the piece of bread into the cupped hand or hands. No skin contact occurs.

Others, however, approach with one hand held out with three fingers pointed upward to receive the bread. The celebrant must then carefully place the bread within those three fingers. Skin contact occurs frequently. But sanitation is really not the issue.

What’s wrong with the three-fingered approach? To my mind, it’s grasping. We do not grasp for a sign of God’s grace. We receive it in gratitude with outstretched hands. Again, we do not grasp for it; we receive it.

There’s a world of difference between grasping and receiving. I have sometimes in the past and do now promise to myself to always in the future inform the congregation beforehand that when I am serving communion you must hold out you hand to receive the bread but you must not hold up three fingers to take it because I won’t serve you until you get it right and we’ll stand there all day until you stop grasping and start receiving.

I’m retired now and may not have many more opportunities to serve communion, but whenever we do, people are going to receive not grasp at grace.

Next time communion rolls around at your church, check the bulletin or newsletter or screen. It probably says something about “taking” communion. Don’t believe it. We receive God’s grace. We don’t take it.

And it may be a small symbolic thing, but I’m going to enforce it.

One thought on “Taking and receiving

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