Churches struggle with what to call the thing that we do every Sunday morning. The thing that is officially called Holy Communion. Most churches call it ‘worship’ or a ‘service’ or simply something like ‘the 11 o’clock.’
So what is Communion?
Well, I would say that Communion is essentially a gathering together - to celebrate the good news that we are loved and forgiven and we are all brothers and sisters in God’s family.
The words ‘Communion’ or ‘service’ or ‘worship,’ however, don’t seem to convey all that. And sometimes I wish we could just call what we do a ‘party.’
But, if Communion is a party, isn’t it an odd kind of party?
What kind of party starts with confession?
I mean, what kind of party starts by getting everyone to confess their sins – which is what we do first thing every Sunday morning?
It’s as though we’ve been invited to a party but, before we can enjoy ourselves, we have to feel bad about ourselves.
In the Book of Common Prayer we are called to pray, ‘Almighty God… We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us…’
It all sounds very grim.
But the truth is that we know, as we pray these words or similar words, that we are loved, loved so deeply that God even gave His life for us. And this means that we are forgiven – whatever we have done and whatever we will do in the future. Which is very good news indeed.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds
St Paul in his first century letter to the Church at Rome tries to explain this by saying that where sin abounds, grace abounds. The truth is we can sin and sin and sin; and be forgiven and forgiven and forgiven. Receiving grace and grace and grace.
So then Paul asks a rhetorical question. He says, if this is true then perhaps we should go on sinning so that grace might abound even more?
But no, he says. That would be ridiculous. That would be like deliberately hurting a loving parent.
The good news
The good news of Jesus – the news we gather together every Sunday to celebrate – is that we are loved. We are loved so deeply and fully that there is nothing we can ever do to make God love us less. And, because of this, we know that we are forgiven and accepted in God’s family. Always.
We start Communion, the party if you like, by reminding ourselves of this wonderful news and why we want to celebrate this good news.
In the Bible, Jesus tells about a man who loses his son – his son disappears and is thought to be dead. The father misses his son and always hopes that he will one day return. The father keeps looking out for his son. And then, one day, he sees his son on the road, making his way home and he runs out to meet him. The son wants to beg his father’s forgiveness. But, before the son can get his confession out of his mouth, the father is already hugging him and making plans to celebrate with a huge party.
This is what we experience every Sunday.
We are the lost son, coming home to God each week, knowing we have messed up and wanting to say we are sorry. But, as we arrive in Church, we see God running towards us with arms outstretched – ready to welcome us home. Forgiving us before we can get the words out of our mouths. Loving us and accepting us – and wanting to throw a party to celebrate.
We may not kill the fatted calf each week (and, as a vegan, I’m glad of that) - but we do have good reason to celebrate. And trying to get our confession out – even though we know we are already forgiven - is part of that.