United Methodists and Weekly Sunday Communion

Tonight I will receive “Election Day Communion” at the United Methodist congregation closest to my home. Curiously, I cannot receive it there on Sunday. Or the Sunday after that. Or the Sunday after that.

John Wesley would not approve of the standard Sunday practice in so many United Methodist congregations.  In 1784, Wesley urged the elders in the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church in North America “to administer the supper of the Lord on every Lord’s Day.”

This Holy Mystery, adopted by the United Methodist General Conference in 2004, advises:

The complete pattern of Christian worship for the Lord’s Day is Word and Table – the gospel is proclaimed in both Word and sacrament. Word and Table are not in competition; rather they complement each other so as to constitute a whole service of worship. Their separation diminishes the fullness of life in the Spirit offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ. …

Congregations of The United Methodist Church are encouraged to move toward a richer sacramental life, including weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the services on the Lord’s Day, as advocated by the general orders of Sunday worship in The United Methodist Hymnal and The United Methodist Book of Worship.

Weekly communion on the Lord’s Day has always had a special place in the life of the church. Again, This Holy Mystery, reminds us that:

The practice of the Christian church from its earliest years was weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day. The Didache, a source from the late first century or early second century says, “On every Lord’s Day -his special day – come together and break bread and give thanks.”  Justin Martyr, writing around A.D. 150, relates, “And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting . . . bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president similarly sends up prayers and thanksgivings”  …  Most Christian traditions have continued this pattern.

Eventually, even more frequent communion came to be practiced, primarily (but not exclusively) among the clergy and monastic communities. There is always a small group of the faithful present for daily mass in chapel. This, I am sure, is of great benefit to those who are able to participate. John Wesley received communion four or five times each week. And of course it is a good thing for representatives of God’s people to continually offer their Eucharistic prayer and praise to God.

Communion on the Lord’s Day, however, is something different. The Lord’s Day has a special place in the household of God. Article 12 of our Confession of Faith affirms:

We believe the Lord’s Day is divinely ordained for private and public worship … It is commemorative of our Lord’s resurrection and is an emblem of our eternal rest. It is essential to the permanence and growth of the Christian Church …

Practically speaking, the Lord’s Day is the one time in the week when the majority of the church can assemble. More importantly, it represents (at least symbolically) the gathering of the whole church and a sign of the age to come. I can agree with the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says:

The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.

It is essential to the life of the church that we recover the ancient, universal practice of weekly communion. Weekly communion is the regular heartbeat of the Christian life. It is the ordinary, faith-shaping, identity-forming means of grace. It is Christ’s chosen means of giving himself to us. And if Jesus truly gives himself to us and feeds us at his table, why would anyone withhold this blessing from Christ’s hungry and thirsty flock?