United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
This Holy Mystery:
A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion was adopted by
General Conference of The United Methodist Church on Thursday, May 6, 2004.
This Holy Mystery )
- In the New Testament, at least six major ideas about Holy Communion
are present: thanksgiving, fellowship, remembrance, sacrifice, action of
the Holy Spirit and eschatology.
- Holy Communion is Eucharist, an act of thanksgiving. The early
Christians "broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and
sincere hearts, praised God, and enjoying the favor of all the people"
- Holy Communion is the communion of the church--the gathered community
of the faithful, both local and universal.
- Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but this
remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. "Do this in
remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25) is anaminesis (the
biblical Greek word). This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past
gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly
present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just
remembered for what was done in the past.
- Holy Communion is a type of sacrifice. It is a re-presentation, not a
repetition, of the sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews 9:26 makes clear that "he
has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the
sacrifice of himself." Christ's atoning life, death, and resurrection make
divine grace available to us. We also present ourselves as sacrifice in
union with Christ (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5) to be used by God in the work
of redemption, reconciliation, and justice. In the Great Thanksgiving, the
church prays: "We offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and
living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us..."
- Holy Communion is a vehicle of God's grace through the action of the
Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) whose work is described in John 14:25; "But the
Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will
teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." The
epiclesis (biblical Green meaning calling upon) is the part of the Great
Thanksgiving that calls the Spirit; "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us
gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine." The church asks God
to "make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for
the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make
us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the
- Holy Communion is eschatological, meaning that it has to do with the
end of history, the outcome of God's purpose for the world--"Christ has
died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again." We commune not only with
the faithful who are physically present but with the saints of the past
who join us in the sacrament. To participate is to receive a foretaste of
the future, a pledge of heaven" until christ comes in final victory and we
feast at this heavenly banquet." Christ himself looked forward to this
occasion and promised the disciples, "I will never again drink of this
fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my
Father's kingdom". When we eat and drink at the Table, we become
paratakers of the divine nature in this life and for life eternal (John
6:45-58; Revelation 3:20). We are anticipating the heavenly banquet
celebrating God's victory over sin, evil, and death (Matthew 22:1-14;
Revelation 19:9; 21:1-7). In the midst of the personal and systemic
brokenness in which we live, we yearn for everlasting fellowship with
Christ and ultimate fulfillment of the divine plan. Nourished by
sacramental grace, we strive to be formed into the image of Christ and to
be made instruments for transformation in the world.