Sunday night the 16th I'm supposed to give a brief summary of the Wesleyan view of communion. My first thought was, "What is the Wesleyan view of communion?" And, after all, there are all kinds of ways you could approach it: a) what is in the Wesleyan Discipline, our manual of identity, 2) what was John Wesley's view, 3) what view do the people in the Wesleyan pews have of communion, or even 4) what view do I want the Wesleyans to have (my view) and how can I manipulate the church into adopting it by presenting it as our position to people who don't know what it is :) Of course that's not my style... (until they elect me to some office--just kidding).
If we have an official view, it should be found here. Here's what we find:
"We believe that the Lord's Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death and of our hope in His victorious return, as well as a sign of the love that Christians have for each other. To such as receive it humbly, with a proper spirit and by faith, the Lord's Supper is made a means through which God communicates grace to the heart" (paragraph 242).
Here are instructions to ministers (aside from how often it is to be done [3 months] and that you can't use fermented wine :):
"It is expected that Wesleyan ministers shall carefully admonish the people that only those who are in right relations with God and with their neighbors should come to the Lord's table, and that others should come only if in so doing they are expressing repentance and seeking forgiveness" (para. 5605).
Let me mention some scattered comments in the Wesleyan liturgy (Ha--don't shudder, ye Wesleyans, for that is what it is!) that seem pertinent:
"You who are walking in fellowship with God, and are in love and harmony with your neighbors; and you who do truly and earnestly repent of your sin and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from this time in His holy ways, draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort; and meekly make your confession to Almighty God (para. 5615)."
"we commemorate the suffering of our Lord"
The above are if communion is part of a service. What follows pertains to if it is the whole service:
"giving it to his disciples as a means of remembering Him until He comes again, and as the seal of the new covenant between God and man" (sic: 5635)... more comments on contrition.
"We come today to remember once again how Christ obtained our salvation. And as we do, we ask that the Holy Spirit shall search our hearts..." [more comments on contrition]
"You who are walking in fellowship with God, and are in love and harmony with your neighbors; and you who do truly and earnestly repent of your sin and intend to live a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from this time in His holy ways, draw near to God..."
"we may become partakers of His body and blood..."
So what is the Wesleyan position on communion? I discern two main functions here:j
1. Rememberance of Christ's atoning death and
2. "means through which God communicates grace to the heart"
As far as I can tell, there's a strong element of "penance" in the Wesleyan liturgy, probably the only place in our worship that targets this part of Christian worship and life. Functionally, the Discipline gives the impression that this is the primary function of communion for us--a time to hit the reset button on your relationship with God.
This is the way I remember communion. Ironically, some people don't even come to communion because they aren't sure they're right enough with God to escape His wrath (now I'm talking more about things I heard about in college). They think of 1 Corinthians 11 and Paul's comments that some people had died from partaking of the Lord's Supper unworthily. But these mis-impressions of the Lord's Supper are dreadfully unfortunately, for the better view of the Lord's Supper is that of the second, namely, as a means of grace.
Of course not all Wesleyans experience communion this way. Coach Drury remembers thinking of it as a kind of "passion play," retelling the story of Christ's death and celebrating our atonement. That's a whole lot better! And yet, is there even more....
No one would be surprised that in addition to the rememberance, Wesley considers communion a means of grace. The language of the shorter service in the Discipline reflects this idea too, but I would suggest the idea is underdeveloped in actual practice. If we really believe that communion is a sacrament, then we believe it actually can do something to you. In some mysterious way--not just some banal you think about it, you repent, you commit more--but in some mysterious way, partaking of this spiritual food makes it more likely that you will come closer to God than you were before.
The Wesleyan View
So let me declare by fiat :) the Wesleyan view of communion. It seems to me it is two-fold.
1. In remembrance, we watch the passion of Jesus played out before us. We focus on its atoning significance and thus appropriately reflect on our own sin. Taking communion is thus a declaration of our desire to be in communion with God and our neighbor. We repent of our sins and hit the "reset button" on our justification.
2. It is a means of grace, by which God mysteriously draws us closer to Him and makes His prescence and grace known to us. The person seeking God should "put themselves in the way of the means of grace," and this is the most significant one on this score.
What I'll Say:
1. Introduction (what is the Wesleyan view...)
2. The two functions mentioned above
3. How often: "at least" once each three months, the Discipline says. We do it every week in the "cathedral service" at College Wesleyan.
Then I'll try to challenge them that these kinds of services don't have to be "empty" ritual or "vain repetition" any more than the "liturgies" they do three times a week at the PAC or the "old fashioned fifties liturgies" they do at some of the Wesleyan churches in the countryside. The Nicene Creed can bless someone as much as singing the hymn "Hallelujah, I have found Him."