I am applying for ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church. As part of the process I am required to write a “Licensing Paper” by which I respond to various theological issues. I know this sounds really nerdy but I’m having lots of fun doing this paper. I love playing with ideas.
One of the question-prompts reads as follows:
B. Sacramental Nature of Communion: Communion is viewed as a sacrament in the ECC. What does this mean to you?
I thought I’d share my response, in case it fires your imagination. Read below:
To answer this question, I need to tell a story I use in my ministry. The story was originally written by Sofia Cavalletti but I have adapted it slightly. The story presents a synthesis of three key Scriptures: John 10:11-18, Luke15:4-7, and Psalm 23.
It goes like this: The Good Shepherd leads a flock of sheep from the sheepfold to a large table. “This is the Table of the Good Shepherd,” I say. “The Table is big enough for everyone. This is where the sheep share a special meal together. This is the meal of the Good Shepherd.” I place a chalice and a small plate with bread on the table.
“The meal does not look like much but it is enough to feed them all, all they need and all they want.”
As I say the words, I begin replacing the sheep in the story with the people of the world.
“The people of the world come to this table—the old and young, big and small, people of all colors. They come from east and west, north and south. They come to be with the Good Shepherd here.”
As I say this, I remove the figure of the Good Shepherd from the story and draw attention to the plate and cup.
“In fact, the Good Shepherd is in the meal itself. Sometimes, when people come to this table they feel they need to put something on the table besides the meal: a picture of the Good Shepherd or the words of the Good Shepherd or a cross. But really we don’t need to put anything here besides the meal because the Good Shepherd himself is in the meal.”
I pause because invariably the face of someone in the group who is listening to the story with imagination will light up somehow. It’s good to be silent and wonder about this.
“The people of the world love to be with the Good Shepherd here. There is only goodness here, no evil. The Table might be placed in a lush, green place, by the refreshing water, in the sheepfold, or even…in a dark place. Yes, He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies sometimes. Either way, He is here with us and that is enough.”
I see the notion of “sacrament” embodied beautifully in this story.
The presence of Christ is Real but we do not need to understand fully the theory of it. We know beyond reason.
A sacrament is “a means by which we receive the grace of God.”
In the story, it remains implicit that anyone gathered at the table is reconciled. You cannot really be at the table and harbor enmity towards the Good Shepherd or another person. This table brings us together. Sacrament is an embodiment of the Gospel, the good news of the ministry of reconciliation. As we make peace with one another, we are truly The Body of Christ.
Therefore, the Bread and Wine are Christ to us—but so is the People of God. As we become Jesus to one another through sharing the meal, Jesus is Real and Present. This is sacrament—Jesus…real and present.
Communion, as a meal signifying the death and resurrection of Christ, enables us to be nourished by Christ’s forgiveness and new life.
When we share communion together we do so “in remembrance” of Jesus. The word “remember” literally means “re-member”: that is, “become members again of Jesus and his family.” So, communion (as a sacrament) is the means by which we participate in the life of Jesus.
Finally, sacrament means “sign.” I take the word “sign” in the classical sense. A “sign” is a reality that points to another reality by participating in that reality. Communion is a sign by which we experience the real presence of Christ.