Recapturing Communion

Likely last weekend or next, your church will partake in some thimbles of grape juice and pieces of unleavened crackers. Almost every Adventist Church I know engages in the tradition of either ending the old year or beginning the new year with communion. From the ordinance of humility (footwashing) to the sharing of bread and “wine”, the ideas of mini baptism, recommitment, and renewal all tie nicely into a ceremony that is perfect for this transitional season. But, as lovely and beautiful as our modern communion services are, one thing lost throughout the centuries of liturgy is that this service was first and foremost a meal together. After all, the word “communion” itself denotes coming together in unity.

It is at the Last Supper that Christ gathered with His pupils for their final shared Passover dinner. He looked at them and spoke about being one. They literally tore bread and ate it from each others’ hands. They ate and drank together. They looked into each others eyes. They touched one another. These visceral experiences involved genuine communion, not merely going through ceremonial motions. The upper room atmosphere was filled with genuine emotion and sharing. Judas wound up leaving because it got too real. Undoubtedly, when Christ called him out to go do what he had to do quickly, he didn’t hesitate. It was likely a relief. He wouldn’t have been able to stand it in there for much longer. The deception he held in his heart would have rendered him unable to stay in the midst of such a gathering throughout the entire duration. Jesus and the other Eleven were bonding in a real and true way. Judas had to be uncomfortable. This was a gathering of the heart.

Communion was instituted not only for the first Disciples, but it was established for Disciples throughout the ages to “do this in remembrance of [Jesus]”. The idea of sharing this meal together is to serve as a physical reminder that we are one: one faith, one Lord, one baptism. With all our recent talk of how to cultivate unity, we already have something, instituted by Christ, designed to promote it! But rarely do we replicate the elements that made the upper room experience a tangible manifestation of the connectedness of Christ’s followers. Instead, most often we sit in pews while facing forward. Pastors, elders, deacons and deaconesses distribute the emblems in a synchronized fashion. Elegant and orderly though it may be, our contemporary practice replicates very little of the original. And perhaps because we’ve lost so much of the “communion” from our faith “community” we feel compelled to manufacture and coerce the “union” part. If we had more opportunities to truly unite, maybe we wouldn’t need to be reminded that we are one.

What exactly do I mean? Well, this extends beyond the Lord’s Supper. It has to do with our interactions as a body as a whole. Although social media was sold as a way to bring us closer together, in many ways we’ve never been farther apart. We carry on conversations over great distances with members of our church who we’ve never met. That seems like a blessing, but in ways that can also be a curse. Without looking into each others’ eyes, talking voice to voice, and being able to reach out and touch someone, much of communication gets lost in translation – even if we’re speaking the same language. Social experiment after experiment have shown that people talk to each other differently face to face than they do online, and that people are quicker to label and make conclusions about others when they aren’t looking at each other in the same room. Somehow these mediums that are supposed to assist us in getting to know each other have made it more difficult.

Now that is not to say all our disagreements will suddenly evaporate just because we are face to face. If that were the case, GC2015 and its aftermath wouldn’t have happened. However, the more we view church as a conglomerate organization and less like a collection of individuals who choose to commune together in oneness in Christ, the easier it is to prioritize the workings of the organizational machinery over the members of the body. The “face forward and do these motions in unison” ideology has the potential to permeate every facet of our church if we allow it to. From the local congregation on communion day to the GC building at meetings, we need to recapture the essence of community. Although the sheer size and vast scope of our growth precludes us from perfectly mimicking the intimacy of a 12-person group, there are some components we would do well to hold dear.

Christ left disciples, not departments. And it is possible to neglect the organic elements of community in favor of a hollow facsimile of communion by policy edict. So just how do we reinstitute a culture of true communion that reaches across continents and languages? It occurs one group at a time, one congregation at a time, with iindividual members intentionally choosing to look each other in the eyes.

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:

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I remember a remarkable communion that we shared at the Forum Conference at Atlantic Union College, many years ago, where the bread was generous and the wine (grape juice) was served up in full-sized cups. This made the experience more meaningful to me.

In my leadership role in a small church in Greenwood, Indiana, I used to arrange the chairs for the congregation in a loose square with the table in the middle, so that we looked at each other while eating and drinking. Just that one change (not possible, of course, where pews are fixed) seemed to make a difference. I highly recommend experimentation of this sort to make Communion a more vivid experience. Don Rhoads


I think we should re-institute the communion meal that Christ and the disciples had. Who is going to bring the lamb chops?


Peak Zwinglianism, right there.

On Maundy Thursday evening at St Francis Episcopal there is a shared meal in the
Parish “Fellowship” Hall. One long table in a “T” shape with several other tables
about the room. On the table is water, wine, grape juice. Small dishes with dates,
various olives, various breads, various nuts, hummus, grapes to pass around.
Toward the end of eating the pastor read scripture.
In the room are 3 “locations” with a chair, pitchers of water, 2 basins, small towels.
At the assigned time all select one of 3 stations. Remove shoes, socks. Stand in line.
The one in front washes the feet of the one behind. Men and women in random order.
Old and young.
After this service IN SILENCE, except for whispers to pass food. The group quietly
move to the worship space and have the Liturgy of Communion without music or singing.
After Communion all quietly slip out.
Some return to the Parish Hall to clean up, put leftovers away. Even that is performed as
quietly as possible.

It is a wonderful service. One I look forward to each year since being introduced to it
back in 2005.
Other Communion services seem “dull” after being introduced to this way of celebrating.


Given such academic qualifications, you should be aware of the value of small groups then. In as much as God asked ALL MEN of Israel to appear before Him three times a year (Deut. 16:16), nevertheless, each of those men was of – and part of a tribe, in that tribe’s own land of inheritance. And if that man were married, then he would have left his family to live with his own wife and children. He was a priest, as it were, of his little family-church group.

Christianity upended this beautiful model. Luke 12:51-53

In the Upper Room, those gathered round the table defined a new type of “family”, linked not by blood (genealogy) but by a common faith in God, humanity returning to their Creator. That is why Paul said, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:26-28

The vast sea of believers has become THE ONE AND ONLY FAMILY. Therefore, new ways of meaningful communion between members – since no one one earth has the emotional wherewithal to bond with 18 million followers (except the Kardashians) – need to be explored:

  1. Sabbath school classes
  2. Special interest hobby groups
  3. Career group societies
  4. Neighbourhood cell groups
  5. etc.

People who want to be together should be together and be so encouraged, in as much as in the previous model, a man and a woman wanted to share a life and have a family of their own and did so. Happy, lively small groups make for peace on earth and goodwill among men. And if each small group were to celebrate the Communion Service in their own time and place, seeing themselves as part of the ONE AND ONLY FAMILY OF GOD IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, then your dream would be realized.


Courtney, you have captured some of my sentiments. Last Christmas Day I went to a United Church (largest protestant church in Canada) service that included a communion service. The minister tore off a large chunk of bread from a very tasty good sized loaf of rye bread for me. I did not drink from the communal wine goblet but the minister said partaking of the bread was most important. The next sabbath my wife and I drove for over an hour to a SDA church where we had communion. I felt double blessed to be at two within 4 days. However, several years ago I was at a Maranatha project in Honduras our project leader tried to replicate for us the full meal idea and large glass full of grape juice similar to the original Last Supper. In our setting, facing across from each other while eating, drinking, praying, “foot/hand washing” the ritual seemed more personal and memorable and spiritual than the formality usually experienced in SDA churches: eating a wafer size piece of food and having a swig of juice we normally don’t experience in our daily lives.


In a prior life, I am now a retired military & VA chaplain I would sometimes conduct a different SDA Communion service when permitted by he size and shape of the worship hall:

  • At the front I would arrange tables in the shape of a “T-cross,” with 13 seats.
  • Holding a microphone, I would walk the aisles of the congregation inviting people by name to have a seat at the table.
  • The local leader who was attempting to serve the congregation.
  • The older person who was facing the changes of retirement.
  • The teen who facing the challenges of adult life.
  • The newly baptized child.
  • The single adult.
  • The person visiting that day who was a Christian of another background.
  • Etc.

The idea being that Christ welcomed all to the table, regardless of their struggles in life. Yes, as appropriate, I got permission prior to asking the person publicly to join me at the table.


The mode and method, and the setting are far less important than the meaning. The Glory of the Cross, The Glory of the Empty Tomb should dominate the mind, the heart and the soul of each participant. A silent Amen should follow each act.


The bread and the wine have significance we can understand in modern times but due to modernisation (and wearing shoes) the significance of the foot washing is often lost. When we have communion, we try to capture some of what has been lost - we have the foot washing outside under a canopy, we wear sandals on a dusty carpark. Our pastor often says that he wants to pour water on the dirt and have everyone walk through the mud. Then foot washing will truly be foot washing.

How significant is footwashing when you can’t tell the difference between the water before and after?

My dad was building the first James White Library at Old EMC. The plant engineer had control of a gravel pit left over from a previous Glacier. it contain large amounts of sand stone which if mixed with concrete would weaken the mass. he repeatedly tried to get dad to buy his gravel. dad refused and told him why. he would say wash the sand stone out and I will buy your gravel.

One Sabbath at the foot washing the foreman asked to wash dad’s feet… Dad agreed. After they embraced at which time the foreman. Said, now will you buy my gravel. Dadvsaid absolutely was soon as you wash out the Sand stone. When they demolished the building not one piece of sand stone was found. neither was sand stone used in the new structure. Dad alway believed in building upon the Rock.


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