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On Preaching – 56.3

Colleen Cook

Colleen Cook is the pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Georgia.

I preach every Sunday, but somehow on the first Sunday of the month, preaching takes a back seat to the proclamation that is the Eucharist. Yes, the Eucharist is a response to the Word, but the Eucharist reshapes the service, pulling itself to the center, even though it takes place nearly at the end. I have always had a sense that the saints who have gone before us come to partake with us at the table. Those who dwell in the presence of God and commune with Jesus face-to-face know so much more about God than we do, so our proclamation of the Word is at best provisional. I’m pretty sure the saints wait until after the sermon before they arrive.

I have a vision of them tiptoeing in during the Invitation to the Table, those saints who come from east and west and north and south. They are amused by our solemnity. They leap and dance among us as we woodenly pass the peace. They jostle in the line to the elements. They know they are at a party, a big, joyous feast. What do they make of our small numbers? Of our invitation to those livestreaming to gather elements from the kitchen at home?

I imagine that as Christ is present in the elements, so these saints are present wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, popping in at a homebound member’s house, pressing the bite of cinnamon roll into the palm of their hand, “Christ’s body for you,” holding the cup of tea—or juice—or lemonade—to their lips for that one taste of God’s goodness, “the cup of salvation.

Jesus got harder to put into a box and surround with restrictions once we learned about Zoom and YouTube and Google Meets, once we were prevented from assembling in person. We found that we still craved the bread and juice. We came to understand a different sense of the gathered body. And here we are now, with access to vaccines, some timidly coming back to church and some perfectly satisfied to join online. Some of us feel fractured and some of us feel free. For all of us, church will never be as we once knew it.

We focus on what we think we can control: Do we serve by intinction or do we provide the holy Lunchables?1 Do we reach for the bread ourselves or is it placed in our hands by the elders? Do we pass a plate with the wafers and tiny cups? Does the grape juice represent Jesus’ blood if it’s not Welch’s? Have the details washed away the meaning behind it all?

I imagine that those saints who never bothered to take a seat but who are communing with us “in person” chuckle at us, because they know that corporeal presence is not what makes the elements holy, that the Holy Spirit wasn’t really waiting for us to utter the epiclesis before she joined us, and that the table is God’s and not our own. The saints know from experience that the table does not belong to our small church family, our denomination, or to America. It doesn’t belong to our racial ethnic group or to our brand of Christianity. It is God’s table. If we could see these saints, what would we learn? No doubt there are some among them who were denied the table in their lifetimes, ones who were deemed unworthy. I think they are the first to arrive. They urge us to widen the table, God’s table, for all.

How do we dare to preach with the table set before us and the saints waiting impatiently for the sacrament? With the smell of bread and juice in the air? In my context, I use the Revised Common Lectionary texts as a launching pad, searching and sifting among four texts for God’s good word for the people in this time and place. I pray and read with one or more of those I call “lectionary partners.” I ask unprepared friends to tell me what they see in the text. I live in the text as I write both the sermon and the eucharistic prayers, that they might proclaim the text in these times and this place.

If the Eucharist is to be a feast of Thanksgiving, my sermons on communion Sundays had better start and end by claiming the belovedness of each soul gathered, no matter how they gathered, the necessity of each to the body of Christ, and the wholeness we only feel when all are truly welcome. Our hymns make the same claims: “This is God’s table, it’s not yours or mine2 . . . for everyone born, a place at the table3 . . . Gather us in . . .”4

In a day and age when the Eucharist is often withheld as a political statement, let’s emphasize each soul’s intrinsic worthiness, because this is the good news we learn at the table that is God’s alone. Each soul is worthy because of Christ’s love and sacrifice for them, worthy because of the holiness of God’s breath breathed into human flesh, worthy as bearers of God’s beautiful image.

I often claim in my invitation to the table, “There is nothing you must do or say or believe to be welcome at this table, for many have met Christ at the table.”

If we can grasp our welcome and believe it, then maybe we’ll allow those hovering saints who have met Christ to coerce us to the table and, like a reluctant lover being dragged to the dance floor, we find our self-consciousness dissolved in the delight of being wanted, being needed to make the body whole.


  1. My congregation and I have irreverently adopted this name for the prepackaged wafer and cups we began using during the pandemic.
  2. Barbara Hamm, “Come to the Table of Grace,” Glory to God (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 507.
  3. Shirley Erena Murray, “For Everyone Born,” Glory to God, 769.
  4. Marty Haugen, “Here in This Place,” Glory to God, 401.


On Liturgy – 56.2

On Liturgy – 56.2

One Friday during a recent low point in our community’s COVID-19 infection rates, my husband and I bought tickets to a dinner show at an iconic jazz club in our city. The evening’s featured performer was a local musician who also happened to be a congregation member—I had not yet had the chance to meet him, and I was eager to hear his music.

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On Liturgy – 56.2

On Preaching – 56.2

In keeping with the Directory for Worship, Kaela (not her real name) was presented for baptism with neither undue haste nor undue delay. She was thirteen years old, wearing her backpack and clinging to a stuffed animal as she walked to the baptismal font. Her mothers had been Presbyterian for a little over a year—they joined soon after visiting our church’s booth at the downtown Pride festival the year before.

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