Mennonites and Communion

 ‘Lord, we welcome you to table; grace our supper ever new.  With your feast of love enable every guest to live for you.’    [Hymnal Worship Book, 455]

Lately, the Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. have been in the news.  They are working on drafting a statement that will exclude President Joe Biden and his wife from receiving Communion since President Biden supports abortion rights.  (Not all bishops agree.  The bishop in Washington, D.C. where the Bidens worship has publicly said he will not deny them Communion).

It is not my intent or mandate to critique another denomination, but since we are celebrating Communion this Sunday I thought it might be useful to remind ourselves of Anabaptist Mennonite understandings of this event.

Traditionally Anabaptists have referred to communion as the Lord’s Supper, calling attention to its first descriptions in the Gospels.  Participation in the Supper holds various meanings.  First, it is a reminder of the self-giving love of Jesus.  For the baptized it is an occasion to remember their baptismal vows to follow Jesus Christ in daily discipleship.  For those who have yet to be baptized, it is an invitation to a deeper relationship with Christ.  As we eat, we remember that the power of God is revealed in vulnerability and weakness.  We acknowledge the possibility of suffering for following the Jesus way.

Second, the unity of the church celebrated at the Supper is a reminder that we do not journey alone.  We believe in the true presence of Christ, present in the gathered body of believers and seekers.  In many Mennonite traditions, the time before the Supper was a time to reflect carefully on the health of relationships among members.

Third, Anabaptists understand the Supper to be a meal that points towards the culmination of history.  Revelation 19 pictures the great wedding banquet of the Lamb when people from all tribes, and peoples, and nations will gather around a table united in their common confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.  Around the table will be rich and poor, women and men, new believers and mature saints, people of all races and ethnicities.  This is the shalom God has always intended for God’s creation. 

Finally, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of the meaning of our salvation.  We have been saved in Christ through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It reminds us that we are being saved, in the fellowship of his loving body, the church.  And it reminds us that we will be saved, as we look forward in hope to the resurrection and the culmination of history when God’s new creation will be realized fully ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ 

The celebration of Communion is a holy, joyous, and transforming moment as we celebrate and eat together. 

 [adapted from Beliefs, by John Roth, Herald Press, 2005]