Visitors and Communion

communion-clip-art-9aiq64AcM-302x283Q: What should I tell folks who visit church with me about whether they should take communion?

A: At the table of our Lord Jesus Christ, God nourishes faith, forgives sin, and calls us to be witnesses to the Gospel.

Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized. In this regard Christian baptism is an expected pre-condition. But God’s grace is always present. When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

In addition to baptism, preparation is also an expected aspect. Preparation takes two forms. First, the person should seek out instruction that emphasizes the sacrament as a gift, given to the faithful by and for participation in the community. Such faith is not simply knowledge or intellectual understanding but trust in God’s promises given in the Lord’s Supper (“for you” and “for the forgiveness of sin”) for the support of the baptized. Second, people should examine themselves at the time of partaking. Opportunities for corporate and individual confession and absolution, including the use of the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness, are especially appropriate. Helpful forms of personal preparation may include self-examination, prayer, fasting, meditation, and reconciliation with others through the exchange of peace.

But let me speak more directly to your present LCMC context. Believing in the real presence of Christ, the LCMC practices what is referred to as “eucharistic hospitality.” All baptized persons are welcomed to Communion when they are visiting in the congregations of the LCMC. This is usually referred to as “open communion.”

Historically, when it came to communion we early reformers had to agree to disagree. In 1529 I traveled to Marburg, Germany to meet with representatives from the Swiss reformation movement. My meeting with Ulrich Zwingli, the leader of the fledgling reformation in Zurich, allowed us to reach agreement on almost all theological issues. The only major exception was in the area of communion.

While Lutherans affirmed the real presence of God ‘In, With, and Under’ the earthly elements of communion, other reformed churches saw communion as more a symbolic presence, not a literal (albeit mysterious) presence. This distinction continues even into your modern day.

Your Brother in Christ,

Martin Luther