The empty sacrament

Written by Joel on October 18th, 2008

I went to my church’s regional (like a diocese or synod) gathering. There were several worship opportunities throughout the event in which communion was served. (We celebrate communion in every worship service)

There was no clear mark which signified an entrance into holy time – that worship was not set apart from our everyday lives. The worship leader just began to sing a song while everyone else continued their conversations. A sermon was given and someone came forward to introduce communion.

They emphasized how all are welcome, with no precondition. Neither sin, creed, nor status of baptism were reasons to separate one from the communion table. That it is a table of hospitality.

As the elements were passed I took and ate. I normally cross myself (as I learned from the Catholics) after I partake in order to mark the holy moment. But, I could not bring myself to do it this time because it felt so very profane. Not profane in the sense that it was irreverent or unholy, but simply ordinary. By the introduction to communion and a stress on symbolism, it was clear that this meal was only bread and juice. It tasted empty.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe communion is for all, invited by Christ. But it is not an ordinary meal like we eat in order to sustain our physical bodies. It is a spiritual food which nourishes the souls of those already united with Christ. It is certainly not a meal which one can approach on one’s own terms – for it is Christ’s table, not ours.

Emptier still.
Saturday morning we worshiped again. This time the communion elements included pretzels and gold fish crackers. I cannot recall the justification for this practice at this time because I remember feeling so empty at the thought.

Granted, nearly all Christians in this tradition believe communion to be symbolic only. But what happens when you tamper with the symbol? When I approached the communion plate and saw the pretzels and gold-fish crackers I did not think of Christ’s last meal, but rather a children’s party. For that is what those elements symbolize.

I did not partake. I had to leave the worship service at that point because I was so angry and I took a walk until lunch.

The church said “look how hip, cool, and open WE are that we can do this.” I believe Christ was overshadowed by this novelty. It is a feat in mental acrobatics when we attempt to force a new symbol to mean what the bread and wine once meant.

Symbol or not, let us not profane (make ordinary) the Table of the Lord.


 

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Agellius says:

    Joel writes, “Do not misunderstand me. I believe communion is for all, invited by Christ. But it is not an ordinary meal like we eat in order to sustain our physical bodies. It is a spiritual food which nourishes the souls of those already united with Christ. It is certainly not a meal which one can approach on one’s own terms – for it is Christ’s table, not ours.”

    I don’t understand. If you open communion to all comers regardless, are you not inviting people to approach it on their own terms? If you put no restrictions on it, how is it even possible for people to approach it on any other than their own terms?

  2. Joel says:

    agellius,

    That is exactly why this particular celebration felt so empty to me – because it focused on us instead of Christ. It was made profane.

    I believe Christ invites all people to his table, but on his terms. Like the parable of the wedding feast, we are unworthy but invited. But that does not mean we can enter the feast however we feel like. If you recall from the parable, the bridegroom threw out one of the invited guests because he did not have the correct garments on.

    I anticipate your response may be something like:

    “Well, if you should receive on Christ terms, you should join the Roman Catholic Church.”

    The Roman Catholic church does not hold a monopoly on Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Christ will be present where he chooses to be. It is Christ’s table, not a particular church’s (perhaps the universal church, made manifest in local communities)

  3. Agellius says:

    That was not going to be my response.

    What I don’t get is, you said, ‘I believe communion is for all, invited by Christ.’ Do you mean, “Christ has invited all”? Or do you mean, “it’s for all whom Christ has invited”? If the former, then how do you restrict who can receive and on what terms? If the latter, how do you determine whom he has invited?

  4. Joel says:

    Well the Christian Church is catholic, meaning that it is meant for all people. In this sense Christ invites all in the world to his table.

    However, reception of this gift/meal/sacrifice must be done in a worthy manner.

    That is why “many are invited, few are chosen.” (Mat 22:14)

    I believe the focus on communion boundaries is somewhat wrongheaded. I am not saying there should not be any standards; but when standards and boundaries become more important than the Christ that makes Holy Communion possible, then we have a problem.

    This may be a more fruitful discussion over the phone. Would you be up for a Skype call?

  5. Agellius says:

    Joel writes, “This may be a more fruitful discussion over the phone. Would you be up for a Skype call?”

    I appreciate that but I prefer to discuss in writing. I don’t do so well orally, I need time to organize my thoughts.

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