The sacrament we are celebrating this morning goes by several names. I have never really been sure why that is. Maybe it has to do with the denomination in which you grew up. Some people just call it communion. Others refer to it as the Lord’s Supper. Even others say Eucharist. All of these names are correct. We do gather together to celebrate the sacrament in communion with one another. In the sacrament, we are invited to sit at the table at our Lord’s invitation, and it is a foreshadowing of Christ’s table in the kingdom of God.
It’s this last name, eucharist, that I want to talk about today. The word has Greek and Latin origins with various meanings: thanksgiving, gratitude, to be grateful, to be thankful. While the first two names are certainly descriptive, it is this last name which conveys the depth of feeling of our forebears as they gathered around the table. Some gathered in squalid huts; others in palatial sanctuaries. In some places, the table was set with the finest silver; in others, only the simplest of pottery vessels was available. Some worshiped in freedom; others in captivity.
The communion table at Columbia Theological Seminary was set with a somewhat plain, aluminum chalice and paten. (The chalice is simply a cup to hold the wine or juice. The paten is the plate for the bread.) I hadn’t really paid much attention to it during my years at the seminary until one day late in my senior year when I decided to examine it more closely. What I found surprised me. The chalice and paten had been used by Lt. Eugene Daniel, a Presbyterian minister, during his service as a chaplain in WWII, which included two years in a German POW camp. I tried to imagine what a celebration of the Lord’s Supper must have been like in a POW camp. What did Rev. Daniel say in the prayer of thanksgiving? What intercessions were offered? What sins of the captives were confessed?
We are not prisoners of war, but we are in a forced confinement by an enemy. In this case, a microscopic virus undetectable by the human eye. We are not in our sanctuary; we are in our homes. We will not be passing the bread down the pew; or the juice either for that matter. Many of you will be where two or more are gathered in His name. Others will be without human companionship, but you will not be alone for we are all one in God’s Spirit.
My point in saying all this is: in all places and in all circumstances, we can find reason to be thankful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our celebration of the sacrament even under the present circumstances is still a celebration of God’s goodness and the means by which we remember the redemption won for us by our Lord. God intends that our faith be strengthened by the simple elements of bread and juice.
The refrain of one of my favorite communion hymns is “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat; come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.” I will share with you just a couple of verses: "As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice; so when You call Your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. With joyful lips we sing to You our praise and gratitude that You should count us worthy, Lord, to share this heavenly food. The mystery of Your presence, Lord, no mortal tongue can tell: whom all the world cannot contain comes in our hearts to dwell.”
Today, we will celebrate the sacrament together in the presence of our Savior who cannot be contained by this world and who is not limited in any way. Our hearts shall be satisfied. We shall be filled.
God bless you and keep you,