Thursday, May 18, 2006

Holy Communion

I grew up in a Christian tradition that observed the Lord's Supper frequently, but from where I now stand, didn't do it well or with much meaning. We were doing it because we were supposed to . . . and dutifully partook and tried to think the right thoughts in order to please (appease) God. Our thinking didn't go much beyond "we were commanded to do this, so here we are."

Andrew Jones shares a bit of his dialogue with some others in a post when he says:

"so let me get this straight. after examining the last supper of Jesus and the historical accounts of the early church, you have come up with a communion service that: - excludes children, swaps a full meal for a sample, avoids any technology, forbids joy or laughter, happens in a hall with men on a stage, dispenses with conversation, has no wine whatsoever . . and you think that is more biblical? more godly?"

I have the same question - how'd we get here? How can we with a straight face claim that what we have done is anything like the early Christ-follwers? Face it . . . we can't.

However, try to make holy meal more meal-like and authenic and you'll find out how uncomfortable many would be if they were transported back to one of the early churches. Actually, I really don't want a codified observance in any format. It's not like I believe that we must make it more like the original meal. I just wonder what's the problem if we do?

Monday I was sharing a meal with a Roman Catholic brother who expressed his confidence that the Eucharist, in the western tradition, would continued to be celebrated a 1000 years from now. I don't doubt that. I actually enjoy such a solemn, content laden, personally formative, and God-is-present observance.

What I don't get is why it has to be that way. The early Christians didn't have a formal, lengthy, prescribed celebration. They also didn't have a pinch of cracker and sip of Welch's.

Don't get me wrong- I'm not favoring a mode. I am wondering why we've become committed to modes, one way or the other. Give me formal and reverential. Then give me informal and conversational. Tell me when to stand, kneel, and sit. Next, let me do whatever I want. Let's have a full meal, and then let's have a pinch and sip.

No longer being a "patternist" in my thinking, I don't believe that we must celebrate communion in the exact mode of the earliest believers, but I also do not want to become exclusivistic about any later traditions associated with this sacrament. Those modes are not sacred unless we believe some era of the historical church after the first century achieved a level of perfection not realized among the apostles and their congregants.


Mark said...

i read that earlier this morning and couldn't help asking the same question, how did we get where we are? I ask the same about many of the ways we practice church. how did we get to the idea of buildings, "sunday morning worship", age group bible classes, sermons, preachers, an "order of worship" for our gatherings, church growth seminars, mid-week meetings, etc, etc.

Frank Bellizzi said...

What I don't get is why all of the kids have to be shushed.

In the Old Testament, the establishment of landmarks and feasts includes the divine expectation that children are going to ask, "What's this about?" at which point the parents are to tell them the story. Today it is much more likely that the parents will say, "Be quiet. We're worshipping."

pd said...

There is an old poem called "The Calf Path" which tells how great highways and cities were built by generations of people following the wobbly path of some old calf through the woods, and we likewise find ourselves doing things of no heavenly value by following the "calf paths of others men's minds", as we wobble, unthinkingly through life.

TCS said...

great post. Came here after a student this week was telling me about Disciples' Fellowship.

Its a long reductionist road to where we are now. that search for pattern left us with a scientific minimum of facts and not much glue inbetween them.

At least we didn't determine the pattern had to be in an upper room. ;-)

But I am favoring a mode. Give me something less on ceromony and more heavy on relationship any day.

priest said...

Great stuff, Greg. Why, in the tradition you spoke of, is communion the most individualistic sacrament of worship? can true communion with God ever be to the exclusion of the man sitting six inches from you? or the child in your lap?

I'll bring the cabernet Sunday morning.