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Holy Communion in three tenses

Sacrament is a call to mission, not just remembrance of past, Wasserman tells ecclesiology colloquium

April 24, 2013

LOUISVILLE

In their hunger for the spiritual nourishment provided in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Christians often miss an equally important element of the ritual ― its call to discipleship, the Rev. Marney Wasserman told the Moderator’s Colloquium on Ecclesiology Tuesday (April 23) at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (APTS).

“We can forget what the church, including Calvin, has always known: that the Lord’Supper, like baptism and the Word of God, contains both a gift and a call,” Wasserman, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., told the colloquium. “From the Lord’s table, we are always being sent to feed others as we ourselves are fed. It would be hard to get much more missional than that!”

The three-day colloquium ― organized by General Assembly Moderator Neal Presa and Vice-Moderator Tom Trinidad and sponsored by Austin Seminary and the Presbyterian Foundation ― is billed as “A conversation on our shared identity of being liturgical-missional communities.” In the face of denominational struggles, Presa said, “What we need is to first consider Christ’s durable and enduring call of what the church is to be and to do.”

When the Lord’s Supper does not include the call to mission, Wasserman said, it often feels “like nothing more than a memorial of the Last Supper.” Remembering is not the only activity at the Lord’s table, she continued. “We are first and foremost to eat and drink together, to love and serve one another. This is a meal. It happens in the present tense,” Wasserman said.

The Lord’s Supper and the Last Supper are related but not the same, she continued. “The Last Supper only happened once. It is the Lord’s Supper the church has been celebrating ever since,” Wasserman said. When we minimize the community-creating and mission-sending aspects of the Lord’s Supper, she said, “we trade in the rich fullness of the Lord’s Supper for a mere reenactment of the Last Supper… with our eyes on the crucified Savior we miss the risen Lord.”

When that happens, Wasserman said, “when the meal is over and we get up from the table to go, we are just as likely to miss the hungry world that is waiting beyond the church doors, overburdened with present need for help here and love now.”

And if we have a hard time “getting the Lord’s Supper out of the past and into the present,” Wasserman said, “we have an even harder time imagining ourselves into the future tense.” But the Lord’s Supper also points to the messianic banquet at the end of time, she insisted.

“Here the missional connections become really inescapable,” Wasserman continued. “We can hardly take our place at this table without seeing that what we are offered in bread and wine is not only a gracious gift, but a bold, outrageous and persistent call to join the company of God’s people who are doing God’s work in the world towards this great tomorrow,” she said, “the work of evangelism and justice, saving and setting free, prayer and reconciliation and mercy.”

Wasserman said those who resist weekly communion in worship do so “precisely because the sacrament’s missional call to be about God’s work in the world becomes so strong and clear we wouldn’t be able to miss it!”

Maybe, Wasserman concluded, “that’s precisely the reason we need to come to the Lord’s table way more often than we do.”

In her response to Wasserman’s presentation, APTS senior M.Div. student Kim Rogers said that church folk “should not just be urged to take our gifts into the world but should also be inviting the world to the Table.” Rogers, who has received a call to an Austin congregation when she graduates, said, “We have many homeless people in Austin ― what would happen if we invited them all in? The missional church must be willing to invite without obstacles or limitations.”

APTS Professor Jennifer Lord responded to Wasserman that “I simply don’t understand any division between the liturgical and the missional.”

Liturgy, Lord said, “is our entry into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in that liturgy we are being patterned in our bones for mission again and again.”

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