Epiphany, Holy Communion

The season of Epiphany begins on January 6th and concludes before the Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday, which is the Sunday immediately preceding Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. 

Because Ash Wednesday is based on the date for Easter, the season of Epiphany can be shorter or longer accordingly.  This year, 2023,  we end the Epiphany season on February 12, the sixth Sunday of Epiphany.  The maximum number of Sundays in the Epiphany season is eight. 

During the season of Epiphany, the paraments are changed to green.  The Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) book and the supplement “All Creation Sings” (ACS), published in 2020, offers a generous number of settings for Holy Communion (10 in the ELW, 3 in the ACS), so Lutheran churches may choose to change the setting used in the Advent/Christmas season.  It is important to note that choosing which setting to use when is not prescribed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) – it is at the discretion of whoever is responsible for making worship decisions (usually the pastor and one of the music staff or a worship committee, as the music within each setting changes as well).  Coordinating this change with the music staff is important, as they may need to prepare the choir, the accompanist, or any other musicians involved in providing the worship service music.  Now that I’ve introduced the topic of the worship service itself, let’s explore a little about Holy Communion in our worship.

Holy Communion cadence

How often does your church celebrate Holy Communion?  Some churches offer Holy Communion multiple times a week, some weekly on Sunday, some once a month, some others quarterly . . . In Scripture, there are no strict guidelines as to how often a community of Christians should share the bread and body of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ shared many, many meals with his disciples, and shared the Passover meal with his disciples the night before He was crucified.  Early Christian churches met in people’s homes, and Scripture mentions them sharing meals and praying together often, more than once a week—sometimes every day!  But the cadence of when we share a meal today during worship is up to the discretion of the pastor and the congregation. 

Interestingly, there have been cycles in the history of the Lutheran Church where Holy Communion wasn’t celebrated weekly.  Forty years ago, when I first joined an ELCA church, it was customary for my congregation to celebrate Holy Communion every second Sunday, alternating with the Service of the Word.  The Service of the Word contains most of the same liturgical elements as the Service of Holy Communion, but without the communion part.  However, there was a movement/renewal in the ELCA towards celebrating Holy Communion weekly, and more and more ELCA churches have joined that movement.  The church I attend today does choose to celebrate Holy Communion weekly, unless we do not have an ordained pastor to officiate during the blessing and distribution of the communion elements. 

Here’s what Martin Luther said about the sacrament of Holy Communion: “…Now that we have the right interpretation and teaching concerning the sacrament, there is also great need to admonish and encourage us so that we do not let this great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, pass by to no purpose. What I mean is that those who want to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently” (Martin Luther, Large Catechism).

I feel very blessed that we are able to commune in community with one another every Sunday at our church, especially since the pandemic!  It was one of the things I missed most about being unable to worship in person. 

Next week, we will start to explore the parts that make up the Service of Holy Communion.  May grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love!  Amen.

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