Midweek Musing: guest post on entering communion with our whole selves

This Sunday as I sat in Greyfriars Kirk for gathered worship, I listened to the reflection and nodded assent. Immersed as I am in the task of embodying the Sacred Story for my PhD project, I delighted in this affirmation of the whole person in our relationship with God. I was going to write something inspired by what was spoken, but actually have decided to invite Martin to speak again here, as my first ever guest blogger. 

This week's musing is the reflection offered, with my deep gratitude, by Martin Richie, Artistic Associate, Greyfriars Kirk; PhD candidate at University of Edinburgh. 

“For that doctrine maun be maist effectuall and moving that waulkens and steirs up moniest of the outward senses; that doctrine that waulkens not onely the eare, bot the eye, the taist, the feeling, and all the rest of the outward senses, man move the hairt maist, man be maist effectuall and pearcing in the saul.  Bot sa it is, that this doctrine of the sacraments movis, steirs up, and waulkens moniest of the outward senses.”
Robert Bruce, from a Sermon on the Lord’s Supper,
preached in St Giles Kirk, Edinburgh, 1589

St Giles Kirk, Edinburgh
Words from Robert Bruce, the famous Minister of Edinburgh, and thanks to the late great theologian and former member of this congregation, T.F. Torrance, republished in a book called the Mystery of the Lord’s Supper in the 1950s.

And thank God for T.F. Torrance’s advocacy of Robert Bruce, because he reminded us that in the Reformed Kirk communion or the Lord’s Supper wasn’t all about communion cards and coercion. For Bruce, and all of the first generation or two of Reformers, thought that there was definitely something going on in the Supper. It was definitely not a mere commemoration or remembrance, nor simply a remembrance that simply bound the visible church together in an act of communion – that would have smacked of Zwinglian theology, and that never get any traction here. No, in Scotland it was a case of Calvin max, and a rich doctrine surrounding communion, which Calvin wanted weekly, the Scots Reformers suggested monthly, but ultimately it was more infrequent in practice for practical reasons – they couldn’t afford the quanity of bread and wine needed for everyone to take part!  

The sensory dimension is really striking in what Bruce has to say in this short quote – and maybe this is surprising to you, coming from an early Reformer – the miserable caricature starts to break down! And why not, our senses are gifts from God, and surely to deny them is to deny God in a fundamental way?

Communion is a feast for the senses – something that will stimulate and involve, and when you read on more in Bruce you discover that there is a “real presence” involved in his thinking. Christ is present at the table of the Supper through the power of the Holy Spirit – not in a literal sense in the bread and wine, but in the whole experience of gathering as the people of God, following Christ’s invitation, and sitting down together as his disciples, re-enacting that Last Supper and foreshadowing the meal of the Kingdom to come at the end of all time.  Bruce takes the same high view of the presence of God in the Word preached and heard in Scripture and extends it to communion. We get the same thing, but better and more intensely in the Sacraments. God’s moving power and presence in the Holy Spirit is amongst us as we gather to remember, to celebrate, to give thanks (eucharisteo), to share and to glimpse Christ in the action of the table.

In the Jewish Passover meal, which we echo here, there’s a tradition of setting a place at the table for Elijah. We don’t tend to do that for Christ, but maybe we should, to remind us that in any act of worship, God is present in the Spirit and especially in the act of communion that we will share today.

Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh
So today we’re going to share the Lord’s Supper by doing what Bruce and his congregation would have done. In front of us we have three trestle tables spread with cloths, temporarily set up for this meal.

The elders on duty will invite you to come forward in groups, the choir first, then gradually we’ll work our way up the church. You’re invited to come forward to sit at the table together and share the bread and wine, then return to your seats and the next group will come and do the same.

As we do this, be open to what you are doing together, because we come together to this Sacrament – individuals united by our identity as followers of Christ.

See each other, the people of God, of various shapes, sizes and backgrounds, full of great qualities and all of the less endearing characteristics that we know about ourselves.

Think of that night when Jesus gathered his friends together to share time with them, knowing what was likely to happen to him.

Think of our task together as his disciples today.

See the bread – a wholesome loaf crafted by human hands, but made with the raw materials of God’s Creation. Made with flour from grains grown by the death of many grains, buried in the earth and growing to produce more. A dying and rising has produced the loaf that we share.

Feel the tearing as the loaf is broken apart – Christ’s body broken as he is nailed to the cross – a self-giving action – the final act of self giving of God that began with the incarnation – Jesus’ coming among us to emphatically tear down the boundary between God and humanity

Taste the bread – this is the body that feeds spiritually – knowing that Christ has done this for us, draws us to that ultimate place of rest with God – if God be for us, who can be against us?

See the cup – the cup that Christ did not shy away from – the cup that he drank could not be shared by his disciples, but the cup of this table is one that we can all share.

See the silver, that symbolizes the purity of Christ’s actions and motives. See the shallow cup that looks like a loving cup or a maizer that the clans used to use at feasts of reconciliation – one that reconciles us with one another and with God and pledges us to work together in the future.

See the richness of the colour of the wine and remember the true vine that has supplied the vintage.

Taste it – unexpectedly powerful, and astringent – this is the bitter pain of Christ’s blood, shed for us.

Serve each other, passing the bread and wine – this is a shared meal and not a privatized experience.

Rise from the table, having met with God again in these symbols and in the gathering, and know that the signs and symbol of the supper are God’s way of assuring us that we are not alone and that he is part of our lives if we choose to be open to it and embrace God.

For sure there’s a kind of theatre in this. We are re-enacting the story of the Last Supper and are like actors on a stage set. But this is not any stage – we have the promise of God’s presence here, and that is what distinguishes what we do in this and every act of worship in the Church. That’s why we sing Psalm 24: Lift up your heads O ye gates, and the King of Glory will enter in! God’s moving presence in the Spirit is what distinguishes us from a theatre or a concert hall. It is a unique moment of presence when we particularly connect with God – if we lose that, we might as well not bother, because there are plenty of artists and venues who could do just as well. This Supper, this spiritual feeding is the peak of presence and a mark of our identity as Christians.

Come, see, hear, taste, give thanks, rest in this moment and remember to be open to the moving power of God, that is in the smallest and biggest perspectives of our lives and ultimately saves us from being one dimensional and earthbound, raising us in this Supper to a richer, deeper, more fulfilling existence both now and in the life to come.



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