Receiving Grace

Today is World Communion Sunday.
It is the Sunday in our Christian calendar when we not only recognize but celebrate, our global nature as the church. We look past individual church communities, and even denominations and focus on the one major thing that unites us…Christ. And we do this with the celebration of a meal that Christ instituted as a way for us to be reminded of and to receive the grace which God has given us since the very beginning.
Christ unites the entire Christian world through grace. We receive God’s grace on a daily basis whether we feel we are worthy of said grace or not, but nonetheless, it is still important for us to take part in this sacrament. Coming together to celebrate and receive.
Therefore, today I want to talk about that grace, I want to talk about the way we receive that grace, especially in communion, and I want us to look at why it is so important to be receivers of grace.
Grace is the love that God has for us and gives to us, as we have talked about before. It is unmerited and undeserved and most amazingly, free. Grace binds us to God, and God binds us to one another. Therefore, it is God’s grace present in our lives that gathers us together, it is God’s grace that lays the foundation for our faith, and it is through our faith that we reciprocate the grace offered by God.
However, it is not taken. We do not take God’s grace as a greedy thief steals that which they feel may sustain them. Yes, grace is all-sufficient and always available, but it is given as a gift from God and therefore received and honored in the manner in which we receive it. There is a reason we have this discourse Paul writes to the Corinthians on the manner in which they come to the Lord’s Supper. It is clearly because they are mistreating the table. The table has become, for them, more about what they can take from the table and less about what they receive.
Let’s examine them. Paul clearly has gotten a report that the Corinthian people are abusing the time held holy during their worship for the Lord’s Supper. Paul writes, “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.” (1 Cor. 11:20-21) The people are taking the food and consuming with complete disregard for the community. While there are many undergirding reasons as to why this probably pisses off Paul, least of which is excluding persons from dining at the Lord’s table as a community, I think the sacramentality of the meal is one of them that Paul addresses as he continues.
These people were essentially trying to take God’s grace because they somehow felt more worthy than others. Instead of receiving as God intends for the grace they were taking it in an especially greedy manner, hoarding it for themselves and leaving none of the meal for others to come and partake. Paul wanted to show the Corinthian church that this meal is not about what we take, but what we receive. That is why he moves from chastising them for their wrongs to trying to help them understand the sacred nature of this meal.
He writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 For. 11:23-26)
You see Paul knows what he has received and now he offers it for others to receive as well, and he calls for the people of the Corinthian Church to receive it as well.
John Wesley says in his sermon called Means of Grace “a sacrament is ‘an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same.’” (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-16-the-means-of-grace/)
We would do well as disciples of Christ to recognize how we receive grace. It is important to recognize grace in this manner because it changes our mindset of who we are in relationship to Christ and relationship to the world. When we have a mentality of taking grace for ourselves we become reluctant to share it. We feel the grace is ours. We have taken therefore why should we share it? However, when we receive grace it is treated as a gift. It becomes something precious and awe-inspiring…something we want to share and give to others.
And it is as plain and simply shown in the way in which we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We come forward with our hands held out ready to receive the elements.
I know I have heard questions in my few years of ministry as to why we can’t tear off our own piece of bread or take our own? And I answer by telling them about this understanding of grace. Communion is not about us. Grace is not about us. Both of these are about what God is giving to us and what we are going to do with that gift that has been given so unselfishly to us.
Rachel Held Evans a popular author writes, “As I stood at the front of the rustic camp meeting room, holding a loaf of bread in one hand and tearing off a piece at a time with the other, hundreds of people approached, one at a time, with their hands held out, ready to receive. ‘This is Christ’s body, broken for you,’  I said. I said it over and over again, to each person who came to the table—to the back-row boys who avoided my gaze, to the girls whose mascara rivered down their cheeks, to the kids who giggled in line with their friends, to the ones who came all alone. This is Christ’s body, broken for you. I said to the ones wearing designer jeans, to ones with beat-up shoes, to the ones I could tell were athletes, to the ones who were clearly the class clowns, to the ones who probably got picked on in school. This is Christ’s body, broken for you. I said it to the skinny girl who reached for a hug, the youth leader with tired red eyes, the chaperones who mouthed words of thanks. This is Christ’s body, broken for you. I said it to the boy who approached with his walker, the jock who grinned and whispered ‘Roll Tide,’ the mom who told me she sent a letter of complaint to the UMC when she heard I was going to be the speaker. This is Christ’s body, broken for you. There were wrinkled hands and pierced noses and flashes of brilliant white teeth against chocolate skin. There were babies on hips, Band-Aids on fingers, hands in pockets, nervous shuffles, and teary eyes. This is Christ’s body, broken for you. In the faces that passed by I saw joy, relief, anxiety, boredom, shyness, familiarity, distraction, and hope. I saw broken families, fights with friends, doubts about God, and insecurities about the van ride home. This is Christ’s body, broken for you.  This is Christ’s body, broken for you.  This is Christ’s body, broken for you.  I said it more than three hundred times—until at last I believed it, at last I understood: it wasn’t my job to do right by these kids; this wasn’t about me at all. I could only proclaim the great mystery of faith—that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again, and that somehow, some way, this is enough. This body and this blood is enough. At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food. ‘When [Jesus] wanted fully to explain what his forthcoming death was all about,’ writes New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, ‘he didn’t give a theory. He didn’t even give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.’ I guess sometimes you just have to taste and see. After the service, we celebrated with a light show and dance party, because that’s how the Methodists roll. I busted out my worst dance moves to the cheers of the students, wholly unconcerned about my lack of cool. Somewhere between the choruses of ‘We Are Young’ and ‘Call Me Maybe,’ I realized how much I needed these teenagers from Virginia, the ones I had once thought needed me. Communion has a way of flattening things out like that, a way of entangling our roots and joining our hands. On the days when I am hungry—for community, for peace, for belief—I remember what it was like to feed people Jesus, and for people to feed Jesus to me. And those pieces of memory multiply, like the bread that fed the five thousand, spilling out of their baskets and filling every hollow space. Communion doesn’t answer every question, nor does it keep my stomach from rumbling from time to time, but I have found that it is enough. It is always and ever enough.” (Evans, Searching for Sunday, pg. 156-159)
Jesus’ grace is abundant beyond all understanding…so come and receive it.
1.) Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church  Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
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