This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Advent day five: Communion under the canopy

Malinda Elizabeth Berry, assistant professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, lives in south central Elkhart with her family and their flock of chickens. 

“I have peace with God and my fellow man, and I am ready to take communion.”

This motto of counsel meetings and preparatory services among Amish, Mennonites and Anabaptists more broadly has been on my mind a lot over the past several months. It all started at our congregational retreat back in October.

But first, let me make the connection with Advent.

The second week of Advent focuses on John the Baptist’s call to repentance, a theme that resonates in today’s reading: Isaiah 4:2-6.

“On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.”

In his commentary on Isaiah, Ivan Friesen explains that these verses are the closing section of Isaiah that develop the themes of corrupt leadership and what replaces it (Isaiah 3:1-4:6). Friesen adds, “With the rebellion of the Lord’s people unmistakably clear (1:1-31) and the Lord’s day against the high and mighty still reverberating (2:6-22), a picture painted in bold strokes now emerges that gives the landscape a clearer definition (3:1–4:6).” God takes away the things that are letting the villains dominate the innocent and pure of heart. Judgement, Friesen argues, makes restoration possible.

“I have peace with God and my fellow man, and I am ready to take communion.”

My family and I attend Fellowship of Hope Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana. FoH for short. FoH was one of the Shalom Covenant Communities that formed in 1974, according to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. While FoH no longer practices formalized intentional community through common purse or households like it did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there are still many deep impulses and sensibilities that we share related to how we worship and why we gather as a faith community. One way we express these impulses is by developing a thematic focus for the year that begins each Autumn. Last year we practiced Sabbath and this year we are focusing on Communion, and in Advent those lessons we learned through Sabbath-keeping are proving to be foundational for how we prepare, watch, pray and wait in this season. Slowly, we are replacing “should,” “need,” “ought to,” and “must” with “you are enough” and “God loves you.”

“I have peace with God and my fellow man, and I am ready to take communion.”

This isn’t a phrase that I grew up hearing in church, but I know my parents did. Besides sounding rather dated to my Gen X ears (“What about your fellow woman?” I am apt to dismissively ask), I am sensitive to the many ways the imperative to get right with God and everybody else can quickly lead to self-judgment, perfectionism, self-loathing, hypocrisy, guilt, shame and coverups. I’ve also become convinced over the years that the real goal of making the trek to the Lord’s Table is to “receive” and “share in” — not “take” — communion.

In many ways the move to regularly include prayers of confession and words of assurance in Mennonite worship life are helping to mitigate against this expectation that it’s actually possible to have peace with God and everyone else, possibly on the planet. These glimpses of grace in our corporate worship are also ways for us to recognize what some have dubbed the spiritual poverty of our Anabaptist vision.

The Advent challenge is before us: to take seriously the call to align with God’s purposes and live under God’s canopy of shalom.

“I want peace with God and my intention is to love all my neighbors, or at least try. I don’t know if I will ever be ‘ready,’ but I do so much want to share in the miracle of incarnation, the miracle of communion: God is with us and all will be well.”


Malinda Elizabeth Berry is a member of the teaching faculty at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary where she teaches theology and Read More

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