I like imagining a martian coming down and secretly observing us. What would he/she/it say about what they see? If they see me walking my dog, who would they think is the master? If they hear what we say on Sunday morning, what would they think about the way we live the rest of the week. If they watch us during communion, what would they think that we are doing?
This is the body of Christ, broken for you.
This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.
Would they think us cannibals? What are they supposed to think goes on at communion?
One way to start is to think about what other churches say communion means. Catholics, most famously, believe in transubstantiation. That means they believe that the substance of bread becomes the body of Christ even while it looks like bread. The wine becomes the blood of Christ even though it looks like wine. Part of this comes from the Aristotelian categories of substance and accidence, but it also comes from the Gospel of John 6:53-56
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the view of communion as a memorial. In sharing communion, we remember Christ’s sacrifice. It is a sign, but that is all that it is.
Between transubstantiation and a memorial lies the Methodist view of communion. It is a sign but also a sacrament, mysterious instrument of grace. For their to be violin music, one needs a violin, but one also needs a violinist. A violinist cannot make music without a violin. A violin cannot make music without a violinist. In communion, the violinist is God, the violin is the elements of bread and wine, and the music is the grace for us who receive.
The article on communion says of transubstantiation is ‘repugnant to the plain words of scripture’, but we must remember the anti-Catholic sentiment present in the 16th and 18th centuries. The Methodist position is much closer to the Roman Catholic one than the low church memorial. We simply do not use the categories of Aristotelian metaphysics.
At communion, not only do we remember Jesus, we receive Jesus. It is a foretaste of our heavenly banquet when we will all be fully present with God. Taste and see that Lord is good!
Article XVIII - Of the Lord's Supper
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death; insomuch that, to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped.