Never Like This Before: Reflecting on Communion


By Rev. Greg Porterfield

We celebrated the sacrament. For that is what we good Methodists do when the first Sunday of the month rolls around. Never like this before. I speak not of “drive-in” worship, though that is true. I cannot recall a time quite like this. Pandemic, endemic racism, civil unrest, economic Armageddon. On top of all that denominational infighting and dysfunction. Our unseemly grab for ecclesiastical power has rendered our voices if not mute than moot when they have been needed most. Now do we understand the price we have paid in pursuit of imagined purity.
There is, “the smell of death in the air,” wrote Longfellow as he observed Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. Is that what wafts over the atmosphere now? I have been asked more than once, “Is this the end?” I do not think so though I understand the trepidation the question reveals. Political leaders fail us not only in their abject ineptitude but because they see no distinction between expediency and morality. Do they not know? It was a bargain that got Jesus killed. What are we to do?

Still we gathered as a congregation to break bread. Albeit in prepackaged cups, offered at a distance, secluded in our cars. We did this because Jesus did and then we prayed that what was ingested is more than calories can convey. Fredrick Buechner has observed that if resurrection means anything it means that the “worst things are never the last things.” We know this of course. Jesus’ death was not the end but the beginning. It came with a price; for real change does. The way to this it is not deny the inevitability of difficulty but to remember there is nothing before us that God has not already encountered. Resistant to change?  Nothing like a forty-year wilderness sojourn to bend your mind.  Concerned we are not all in this together? The meal that we reverently remembered included in its partaking a doubter and even a betrayer. It included these because it is that within us that needs God most. 

Which is to say that as we broke the bread and took the cup, we were saying that we believe more in the reality of the New Jerusalem than what the evidence can currently account for. It is called faith. And without it we haven’t a chance. For us, revelation begins with a loaf and the cup. And, the most difficult part of the prayer Jesus first taught remains, “Thy will, not mine be done.” 

Rev. Greg Porterfield is superintendent of the Augusta District and pastor of Wesley UMC in Augusta.