Four things Methodists believe about Communion

June 23rd, 2021

Over the last week I have followed the story of the Catholic Church debates over whether President Joe Biden should be allowed to receive Communion because of his position on abortion. In light of their debates, I’m sharing with Bluff City Church four things we, as United Methodists, believe about Communion.

1. Methodists believe Communion is God’s gift, not the church’s gift.

Methodists should never debate, as the Catholic church currently is, whether some individuals should be permitted access to the Table. Deciding who deserves to receive communion is beyond the job description of the church.

The origins of Communion begin with God’s gracious character revealed in Christ. It does not begin or end with the church. This means the church does not get to refuse anyone the privilege or participating in God’s gift. We did not create communion. We, therefore, do not get to limit Communion. We do not even “take” Communion. We receive Communion. And our job is to help others also receive it. The church is a recipient of grace. We do not own grace. We do not restrict grace.

2. Methodists believe that in Communion God folds the past and future into the present.

This belief begins not with the nature of time, but in the nature of God. The past, present, and future all collapse in on each other because we worship a God who transcends time and makes one community out of all of us. God’s presence has been given to the people of God in all times and places. The past, present, and future are God’s eternal now. As God was present in the Exodus, so God is present now. As Jesus is present in the future new creation, so Jesus is present now.

This presence, in fact, is not a symbolic presence. It’s a real presence. The God of all time has folded all moments into this moment and given us not symbolic presence but God’s active, passionate, attentive presence.

But there’s more.

In Communion, the church literally participates in the Exodus story, the liberation of God’s people from the bondage of Egypt, sin, and death. That past event is brought into the present.

In Communion, the church literally participates in the future resurrection and redemption of all things. That is, Communion brings God’s future restoration and new creation into the present such that we are present in the future. When we celebrate Communion, we celebrate with all the saints who have gone before us in death and also await God’s restoration of all things. Your family members who have passed on in death are present in the Communion moment.

This also means that Communion makes us present to other believers who are also presently alive and receiving Communion. We are participating in divine grace as a Communion with believers in China, Russia, Taiwan, Afghanistan, and Palestine.

3. Methodists believe the Table is open to everyone.

Our language is that we have “an Open Table.” No one is restricted from the Table. No one is too unworthy because no one was worthy to begin with.

Will unworthy people receive Communion if we leave it open to everyone? Well, yes. But unworthy people receive Communion even when the Table is “closed” because no one is worthy to receive Communion.

Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with Judas, who was soon to betray him. Jesus washed Judas’s feet that same night. Jesus knew beforehand that Judas would betray him, yet he was not kept from divine grace. If Jesus can wash Judas’s feet and receive him at the Table, who are we to restrict anyone from the Table?

4. Methodists believe Communion even works grace into the lives of non-Christians.

Even non-Christians can participate in the Communion moment. They may not become Christians that exact moment, but they do, nevertheless, participate in grace. And that grace can lead them to conversion. When we say our Table is “open,” we mean that no one -- not a Buddhist, not a Muslim, not an Atheist, no one! -- is kept from the Table. Communion is the moment when all of us, undeserving as we may be, find God’s grace given to us in tangible ways. The church doesn’t own Communion, so we don’t even get to restrict it to those inside the church. The God of all creation has gifted it, through Jesus, to all of creation.

If you would like to learn more about what we believe about Communion, here is a link to several helpful resources.

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