How Communion Trains Us in God’s Hospitality
The more that you experience God’s grace through the sacraments and in ordinary life, the more attention you’ll pay to who’s not at the Lord’s Table.
Randy Smit often shares communion memories to explain how paying more attention to the sacraments renews and revitalizes the church.
“One of my first invitations to host communion was when I was an elder, not yet an ordained minister. It’s a very sweet memory of offering the elements to brothers and sisters in the congregation, to friends who were teachers and mentors to me. It felt significant for me to have blossomed to a place where I was the one offering the meal to them,” Smit says. He is director and founder of Compassionate Connection, a newly forming ministry serving churches and individuals in western Michigan.
Your congregation may find, like Smit has, that focusing on God’s grace and presence in communion will help you more fully witness Christ in everyday life.
In a Roman Catholic mass, a priest or eucharistic minister places a wafer on a communicant’s hands or tongue. In many Protestant churches, worshipers choose a bread cube, pass a loaf, select a tiny cup, pass a chalice, or dip their bread. Smit, who is ordained in the Reformed Church of America, says this distribution difference veils a truth that his Catholic friends already understood.
“I’ve lost some dexterity in my hands over time. I remember sitting in a different wheelchair and having a moment of awareness with a friend sitting next to me. Without saying anything, he realized I would be unable to reach out and tear the bread, dip it, and put it in my mouth. He gave me a look of understanding and put the bread on my lips.
“A lot was going on inside me. Sadness that I had to have someone feed me the meal. Brokenness. And, also, a very brand new fresh look at grace. Grace is all gift. You don’t have to reach out for it. You don’t have to grab it. You just have to receive it. That posture of receptivity is meant not just for bread and cup but for every day of our lives,” he explains.
Smit says his memory of receiving that meal has become “a living formative vision for all of life, for all of us. We all live by grace. Breath by breath, meal by meal, drink by drink. All of it is sacramental. The air we breathe, the drink and food we have, the shelter of our living, the beauty of our creation.”
Fed to feed others
He’s met many Christians who think of the Lord’s Supper as mainly about remembrance, sin, guilt, and substitutionary atonement. In his sermons, classes, and retreats, Smit invites people to explore the sacrament as “a threefold experience of remembrance, communion, and hope. The meal itself reflects the present nature of Christ, whose arms are open to all people. We pray, ‘Spirit, come that we may be one with you, one with Christ.’” Yet communion sermons and services often lack that message of divine presence.
“For me to preside now at communion, we’d need some community. It’s almost like the Trinity. I’m the voice. Others are the cup and bread,” Smit says. He planned and led a chapel service at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, to help worshipers picture God with us.
For the chapel, he acted out a Scripture story. He’d had a scene set up like his breakfast table at home, where a caregiver sits beside him and feeds him. The table held a rustic loaf of bread and cup of grape juice. The background music was contemporary songs about grace and freedom, songs you might hear on the radio while eating at home.
Chapel goers heard God’s Word. They saw Smit being fed. Then Smit spoke the words of institution and offered his caretaker the elements.
“She tore off a piece of bread, took it, and left. I invited people one by one to come to the table. They sat down beside me. I said the words. We shared together one by one. I’d bless them, and they’d leave the service. It was very meaningful, because we all got the sense of being one who is fed and now feeds others,” he recalls.
Trained at the table
Smit shares these memories to explain why the sacraments deserve a more central role in worship. He sees communion as a broad, rich mystery that “is training in. The cultivation of daily gratitude, receiving all of life as gift—the training for that is at the table. It is a practice that cultivates a sacramental view of reality. That’s why we have to keep doing it more than once a month,” he says.
His sacramental theology goes well beyond the meal. “One of my favorite seminary professors, Tom Boogaart says, ‘All of creation is saturated with divine presence. It’s dripping with sacred presence.’
“The story of Scripture is the hospitality of God, who invites us to come home. That hospitality is more than we know how to think about or contain. That’s why we’ve been invited to take part in sacramental mysteries, so God can open our eyes again and again,” Smit explains.
Randy Smit on the Sacredness of the Ordinary
Randy Smit hosts a book club for people who “try to cultivate sacramental theologies in our ministries. We read books that invite people into an awareness that they’re living in an enchanted place, a sacred place.”
Books they call formative include Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, and The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade.
“We have times of glimmering, when the glory of God seems right with you. Other times are more of a glummering, when we experience profoundly what feels like the absence of the divine. Nothing sparkles. We’ve talked about times of divine consolation and desolation.
“Our pace of living and endless input of information make it difficult to cultivate sensitivity to the sacredness of the ordinary. I’m sitting here in front of my laptop and can go bopping around in all kinds of information. The fact of God’s presence is a given. But are we present?” he asks.
Smit is a husband and uncle who believes parents and the Christian community as a whole should “cultivate in our children what to do with down time. Give children unscheduled space to sit with what’s around them. We don’t have to fill it with a game or activity. Cultivating imagination takes a little guidance or invitation. Take walks on purpose. Look around. Listen. Make time for practices of attentiveness,” he says.
- Contact Randy Smit at Compassionate Connection to schedule him to preach or to lead a class, workshop, or retreat on creativity and spirituality. Read his poetry book, Between Storm and Stillness.
- Spend ten minutes with posts by Catholic bloggers David Chislett and Mark Mallett. You’ll get a nutshell understanding of the sacrament of the present moment, which is all about receiving God’s grace in your ordinary life.
- These information portals will help your church better include people of different abilities: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, General Board of Methodists, and Reformed Worship. This Street Psalms essay cautions against jumping into ministry without listening to what people say they need.
- Read this thoughtful review of Thomas E. Reynold’s book Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality. Then consider gathering a varied group to read and discuss the book.
Start a Discussion
Get your group thinking about communion as a sign and symbol of God’s hospitality through Christ:
- What is the same and different between Randy Smit’s communion memories and yours?
- What Lord’s Supper change might help you or your church more deeply experience the meal—and all of life—as a gift? What is the first step toward making that change happen?
- Who in your congregation hasn’t been in worship or communion for awhile? Which physical realities in your church or in absent members’ situations might prevent them from being united through the sacrament?