A Celebration of Communion for Unitarian Universalists
For nearly three hundred years it has been the continuous tradition of the First Unitarian Church of Providence to observe several times a year the ancient rite of Communion. A number of rites have been employed over the years. This Unitarian Universalist communion service was compiled and edited by the Reverend James Ishmael Ford, 17th minister of the congregation.
The sources upon which this service is based are many and varied. Particularly acknowledgment must be given to the Anglican liturgical scholars, Dom Gregory Dix and the Reverend Dr Louis Weil; the former for his generative writings on Eucharistic theology and the later for his guidance of James’ liturgical thinking while studying at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.
Those of a scholarly turn of mind may discern the Anaphora of Hippolytus, one of the most venerable of eucharistic liturgies at the foundation of this contemporary service. The Magnifcat was rendered by the Reverend Frank Huber. In addition, the work of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Abraxis as well as the “Celebration of Eucharist” edited by the Rev’d Dr Mark Belletini, are obviously central to the development of this service.
A bell is rung.
President The spirit and the bride say come. And let whoever hears say come. And let whoever is athirst come. And whoever will, come, take the water of life freely. Rev 22:17
A Hymn may be sung here.
Deacon We have come together this evening to share food for the body and the spirit. Ours is a community of many differing beliefs about the nature of humanity and the world. Many strands weave here to make the wonderful cord that binds us together. One precious strand is the life and story of Jesus, the child of Mary and Joseph. Tonight we take time, once again, to share his teachings and his story with each other, joining together in a holy communion.
President We come here from the cares of our lives in the world, burdened with the knowledge of what we have done and what we have left undone that has caused pain and suffering among those with whom we live. Our world is divided. Our hearts are divided. Let us sit together for a few moments in silence, and consider the great reconciliation of which Jesus sung.
Reader My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. Luke 1:46-55
President These are words of a harsh and dreadful love. In his life and teachings, Jesus gave valuable counsel, and deep words of comfort to those who would discover the realm of God on this good earth. Let us remember.
Deacon Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
All Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
Deacon Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.
All Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.
Deacon Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.
All Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
Deacon Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God.
All Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
President You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and great commandment.
All And the second is like it, namely this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
A hymn may be sung or a musical reflection
A brief homily may be given here
Deacon We now come to the part of our service called the Great Thanksgiving. This is a sacred meal and this is a sacred time. It is a meal that we share not only among ourselves, but with all those in the past and future who are gathered together into this precious present. This is sacred time when past and future have folded into this very moment.
Deacon It is important to remember those who whether or not present physically, are very much among us. Our parents, our children, friends, lovers, the beloved dead; all that great cloud of witnesses are gathered together at this meal. If you wish, this is a time to name those people who are particularly in your heart. This is an opportunity to name those whom we mourn or celebrate or simply remember.
People name the names. A bell is rung at each name.
Deacon And now let us consider the purpose of a meal as a sacred celebration.
Deacon From the dawn of time people have gathered together to celebrate life with food and friends. The great forces of nature, the precariousness of life, the miracle of life, are found in the taste of bread.
Deacon In ancient Sumeria, where the Tigris and Euphrates cradle civilization and where the word “freedom” first appeared in human history, Tammuz the god of field and meadow died each year and came to life in marriage with Inanna, goddess of soil and fertility.
Deacon In early Greece, Persephone, goddess of grain and Orpheus and Dionysus, the gods of music and wine, died each year with the cycle of the seasons and came to life again as a sign of hope.
Deacon In ancient Egypt, people planted seeds in the fertile earth, the body of Isis that her dead lover Osiris, god of grain and harvest might spring to life again.
Deacon On the night following their deliverance from slavery to Pharaoh, the children of Israel shared a feast of unleavened bread to mark their rescue from bondage.
All And we ourselves stand in that living tradition which remembers. Tonight we remember the story of Jesus sharing broken bread and common cup with his friends at the Passover. From the mystery of that story to the mystery of this table is no longer than a heartbeat, for the proof of the past is presence.
The President lifts up the bread
President Even as uncountable grains are gathered together to make this bread, so we gather together in the unity of our common humanity.
The President pours a little water into the wine, and lifts up the flagon
President Even as this water and wine mix together into one, so our bodies and minds dance and blend together into a holy union.
All May the spirit of love fall upon us and on this bread and wine that we may see each other and the divine in the breaking of the bread.
President Jesus said, unless you lose your life you will not live, and if you try to save your life you will lose it. Luke 17:33
A bell is rung
President On the evening of his death Jesus called us to the mystery of life, and like a weaning mother, carried us no farther; setting us free. Blessing you, oh love, and this festive bread, (the
President touches the bread), he said, take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Blessing you, love, and this festive cup (the President touches the cup), he said, this is the cup of an eternally renewed covenant. As often as you drink this wine, do it in remembrance of me.
All Therefore, come, oh spirit of love, and move within us, that we may truly see our kinship with you and with each other. May we live in such a way that the vision Jesus proclaimed is made flesh and blood in us.
Deacon Now let the heavens be rent for us, and the earth be made new in our sight, as we take your good gifts as signs of our own becoming, and in the sharing of them, recall once again the eternal manifestation of that great feast which is given to all who hunger and thirst for justice and mercy.
The president then tears the bread into parts and drops a small crumb into the wine. Holding up the cup and a morsel of bread, the President says
President Behold the life of the world. Eat and drink in the peace and love of Jesus, the child of Mary and Joseph.
The Deacons distribute the bread and the wine. A Hymn may be sung.
President Beloved, now let your children depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the world, for the glory of your people. Luke 2:29-32