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This Holy Mystery

This Holy Mystery

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This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
was adopted by the 2004 GeneralConference of The United Methodist Church. Copyright © 2003, 2004 The General Board of Discipleship of TheUnited Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. This paper may be printed, copied,distributed, or otherwise used for nonprofit education by individuals, local congregations, and agencies of TheUnited Methodist Church with the inclusion of the copyright citation. It may not be used for profit orrepublication without prior permission.
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This Holy Mystery:A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
Table of Contents
 Note: The Table of Contents was not part of the paper adopted by The General Conference, but is added for convenience.
 
This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
was adopted by the 2004 GeneralConference of The United Methodist Church. Copyright © 2003, 2004 The General Board of Discipleship of TheUnited Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. This paper may be printed, copied,distributed, or otherwise used for nonprofit education by individuals, local congregations, and agencies of TheUnited Methodist Church with the inclusion of the copyright citation. It may not be used for profit orrepublication without prior permission.
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P
ART
O
NE
: T
HERE
I
S
M
ORE TO THE
M
YSTERY
The story is told of a little girl whose parents had taken her forward to receiveHoly Communion. Disappointed with the small piece of bread she was given todip in the cup, the child cried loudly, “I want more! I want more!” Whileembarrassing to her parents and amusing to the pastor and congregation, this littlegirl’s cry accurately expresses the feelings of many contemporary UnitedMethodist people. We want more! We want more than we are receiving from thesacrament of Holy Communion as it is practiced in our churches.According to the results of a survey conducted by the General Board of Discipleship prior to the 2000 General Conference, there is a strong sense of theimportance of Holy Communion in the life of individual Christians and of thechurch. Unfortunately, there is at least an equally strong sense of the absence of any meaningful understanding of Eucharistic theology and practice. UnitedMethodists recognize that grace and spiritual power are available to them in thesacrament, but too often they do not feel enabled to receive these gifts and applythem in their lives. Many laypeople complain of sloppy practice, questionabletheology, and lack of teaching and guidance. Both clergy and laity recognize thecrucial need for better education of pastors in sacramental theology and practice.The concern for improved education is coupled with a call for accountability.Bishops, district superintendents, and other annual conference and general churchauthorities are urged to prepare their pastors better and to hold them accountablefor their sacramental theology, practice, and teaching. Many of the peoplesurveyed are plainly resentful of the lack of leadership they believe they arereceiving in these areas. These results are troubling and must provoke the churchto reexamination and recommitment.These results are also exciting and challenging! They reveal a deep hunger for the riches of divine grace made available to us through Holy Communion, for realcommunion with Jesus Christ and with Christian people. They show that UnitedMethodists want our faith to be enlivened and made more relevant to our dailylives. How can our church best respond to the wonderful hunger of its people for “this holy mystery” (“A Service of Word and Table I,”
 BOW 
; page 39)?United Methodists share with many other Christians an increased interest in thestudy and celebration of the sacraments. For the last several decades we have beenactively seeking to recover and revitalize appreciation of Holy Baptism and HolyCommunion. Our current services of the Baptismal Covenant and Word and Tableare the fruit of a long process of development that began in the 1960’s andculminated in their adoption by the 1984 General Conference and publication in
The United Methodist Hymnal 
approved in 1988. The change in location of thesesacramental rituals from the back to the front of the
 Hymnal 
is an intentionalexpression of their significance in the life of the community of faith. In 1996 theGeneral Conference approved
 By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism
as an official interpretive and teaching document for 
 
This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion
was adopted by the 2004 GeneralConference of The United Methodist Church. Copyright © 2003, 2004 The General Board of Discipleship of TheUnited Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. This paper may be printed, copied,distributed, or otherwise used for nonprofit education by individuals, local congregations, and agencies of TheUnited Methodist Church with the inclusion of the copyright citation. It may not be used for profit orrepublication without prior permission.
3the church.
This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of HolyCommunion
is submitted to the 2004 General Conference with the same purpose.Both of these documents reflect United Methodism’s efforts to reclaim itssacramental heritage and to be in accord with ecumenical movements insacramental theology and practice.
This Holy Mystery
is characterized by the effort to avoid rigidity on the onehand and indifference on the other. Neither extreme is true to our heritage nor faithful to the Spirit who leads the church forward in the work of making disciplesliving toward the new creation. The document is made up of two main parts. Theexpository introduction titled “Part One: There Is More to the Mystery” describesthe document’s development and provides grounding in historical tradition andsacramental theology. “Part Two: Christ Is Here: Experiencing the Mystery ” isorganized by principles. Under each principle, “Background” provides anexplanation for the principle, while “Practice” provides guidelines for applyingthe principle. The principles make assertions that are truthful and doctrinallyclear. They honor the historic and ecumenical center of the Christian church’stheology and practice. The committee has endeavored to explain in the“Background” sections how the principles are rooted in the theology and practiceof Christians past and present, particularly United Methodist Christians. In the“Practice” sections we have applied the principles to contemporary sacramental practices of the church in the various contexts of United Methodism.The church is always universal and particular, catholic and local, united anddiverse. United Methodists vary geographically, racially, and culturally.
This Holy Mystery
invites United Methodists to share common understandings whileallowing for appropriate, faithful applications. Some United Methodist practicesdiffer from those of other Christian traditions. Being truthful about thesedifferences recognizes our ties and responsibility to the wider church whileclaiming God’s work in leading us to affirm distinctive understandings and practices. Both within our own United Methodist community and in fellowshipwith other traditions, we reject cavalier or arrogant attitudes. We seek tostrengthen the bond of unity by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as,with humility and openness, we acknowledge our principles, explain our  backgrounds, and affirm our practices.
Names of the Sacrament
Several terms naming the sacrament are used in past and present Christianity.In
This Holy Mystery
some are used more than others, but all are largelysynonymous.
The Lord’s Supper 
reminds us that Jesus Christ is the host and thatwe participate at Christ’s invitation. This title suggests the eating of a meal,sometimes called the Holy Meal, and makes us think of the meals that Jesus atewith various people both before his death and after his resurrection. The term
the Last Supper 
is not appropriately used for the sacrament, but it does encourage usto remember the supper that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night when he was

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