Thursday, May 18, 2006

THIS IS NOT COMMUNION

OK, look out. The bitch is back.

Everyone around me is quietly privately ingesting these little shot glasses of grape juice (probably corn syrup) and eating this sweet bread (at least it's real bread). The lead-in to this was a presentation on a group project. This group had shared their testimonies with one another, and because they had communion (or something else, really, that used bread and juice and they called "communion") during their little group time, they thought we should have it all together during their report on their session.

Now I love the guy who is leading it. But he's deeply confused. You can't just stand up there, read 1 Cor 11, and then expect us to be in communion mode - not in a classroom, not in this setting. He says we use too many words so he won't, and I get that, but I also believe strongly that the particular words - or at least some action - of the Eucharist are special. If you just leave silence, you leave it to every individual person to retreat into herself or himself and create this private moment between Jesus and Me.

Then they passed around this sweet bread (dropping crumbs, which made me choke, but I guess it wasn't consecrated so who cares?) and shot glasses. I declined to partake. I found myself completely unable to reconcile my beliefs about this sacrament with what was happening before me. So I had to decline. I didn't even recognize what they were doing. It was a completely foreign ritual. It was not in almost any way (except reading the words of institution) related to what I understand Eucharist to be. I knew they thought it was. So I couldn't in good conscience affirm that.

Then the poor guy had to pray the thanksgiving afterwards. He got a little muddled (this is the problem with spontenaeity). At one point he actually said, "The bread cries out and the juice cries out...Christ has died Christ is risen Christ will come again" HUH?? Isn't that what the church cries out?! I'm freaking crying out!!

And again, how the hell is juice crying out?

But the shotglasses have to go. I look around and everyone is completely inside themselves. Eyes closed. Heads bowed. They could be completely alone and it would make no difference. They're not even serving their neighbor - they are pulling off their own piece of bread! Arrrrgggh!! The reason it pisses me off so much is that they do not respect the Eucharist. They're not ignorant - they choose to do it in this funereal, individualistic, life-sucking way. No wonder they do it once a month, if that! No wonder they'd rather throw it all out! It sucks this way!!

I got to have lunch with Robert Webber today, he of the Ancient-Future Faith series of books. One of the most prophetic voices towards worship renewal in the evangelical church for the last 30 years or so.

He's really not into this "experience" thing. All these people tonight are giving presentations about their warm & fuzzy experiences that made them feel "so close" to God. They think freaking communion is one of these things!! Unless they think it's the time to get down on yourself for being so bad. But usually it starts the latter and turns into a nice experience (when the quiet acoustic guitar starts up).

Bob said evangelicals say they "know, experience" God - what the heck are they talking about? These words are frequently used in phony ways. To only talk about a personal relationship with Jesus is so narcissistic! Bob thinks it's bull!

And it doesn't connect with reality. We're asking people to have silly experiences and giving creedence to it, and none of it is true. We're creating an escapism. Hey, this is him, not me. But I loved every word.

God never saves us because of what we believe or experience or understand. Can you grasp that? We cannot believe the right thing to save ourselves. We cannot respond or pray or experience or understand or even trust God - and thereby save ourselves.

God only saves us because there is one man who has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That is the only thing. We can trust what Jesus did. But that's not what saves us. What Jesus did is what saves us.

Bob said, "I'm not good at believing this, but I'm good at trusting in it. None of us are who we pretend to be. It's just good that there's one man who is what humanity ought to be and who is for us what we cannot be.... That is the very best possible good news."

To his students who can't believe anymore, he says so what? Who cares! Take a vacation from all this Christian stuff. Let the Church believe for you!!

Whew! How do you think J's Biola kids would take that??!

Here was Bob at his best: "I'm not good at all this Christian stuff....I'm not good enough - I don't pray, read the bible, witness, or get the warm fuzzies as much as you're supposed to....I don't feel it. What I am supposed to feel....I'm struggling with having faith in this kind of world; knowing there is more than the evangelicals tell me....I'm hanging on the cross with Jesus...and the only thing I know is there is a resurrection coming."

Amen.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Learn to be flexible and take communion any way you can, anywhere you are under any circumstances. Grow up and smell the juice!!!!!!!

The Feminarian said...

Interesting choice of words.

I think when we "grow up" - when we become mature believers in Christ - we begin to take things like the sacraments, ritual, and worship more seriously than ever before.

We cannot accept them taken lightly or done without the rubrics and rites that make them what they ideally are. For communion, that is praying over the elements and the people and then serving in such a way that it becomes a communal action of the family of God. It is not allowing "flexibility" that leads to the loss of symbol.

I love playfulness and creativity, and believe that our freest moments should be at God's table. That is where we are safe, that is where we - and the world - are liberated. But playing with the ritual must grow organically out of the deep meanings therein. It cannot be just done quickly because we don't have time, or done poorly because we're not in the proper setting. It's much better not to do it at all.

So no, I don't think I will become flexible to take communion any way any where any circumstances. I don't believe it can be communion in every context. And I don't want to support the half-assed version, because that goes against my theology.

I think that actually thinking about this stuff - and having a reason based in my sacramental theology - means I'm not taking my decision lightly. I hope it implies maturity, thought, and faith - not childishness.

But of course, I cannot control what others may think of me for these views (and when posters are anonymous I have no way to contact them to explain myself...).

seeker said...

Ah, the wine vs. grape juice debate. Well, when Methodism began, it began among the poor who had used alcohol as the drug of choice. Thus, the early Methodist prohibition against liquor. Maybe these individuals came out of that or similar background. And, if you insist on wine only, then recovering alcoholics cannot take part. Just as the catholic girl here in New England cannot take her first communion because she is allergic to wheat or is a celiac, but her parish priest refuses to use an alternative communion wafer.

Christine said...

Hmmm. I understand what you're saying here. I just don't see things the same way.

When I was very angry with Christianity and very much on the outs with the Church, it was a non-traditional church communion that spoke to me like nothing had in a long time. I think the communion was dr. pepper and a brownie.

I remember at the time being in communication with a Real Christian™ who was aghast that I would have communion with those elements at a Church. His derision and smugness were so hurtful to me. All he could do was go on and on about how awful this was - and meanwhile I'd had such an incredible experience with the Divine that I would never forgot. He didn't seem to want to hear/know about that.

I am no theology major (art major here...will that be for here or to go?), but I thought that in Bible days the communion idea was that whenever the Christians got together to break bread they were supposed to do it in rememberance of Jesus...it didn't seem like a big old ceremony then, more like something they did when they ate together. Anyway, that's always been my lay interpretation.

I think I can understand why you chose to abstain...but I look at the other people and think that at least they got something out of it, and perhaps connected with their creator.

"It cannot be just done quickly because we don't have time, or done poorly because we're not in the proper setting. It's much better not to do it at all."

This seems sad to me. Like if I was a parent and my kid didn't want to spend time with me because everything didn't look and feel perfect.

Then again, I'm not really a Christian anymore, so I suppose you can take what I have to say with a big grain of salt (or a salt-lick, depending on how you feel about what I've said).

I've just been on the other end of this one before (on the end of the nose pointed down at me) and it doesn't feel very nice.

Jeanette said...

I think the challenge here is that in many Evangelical experiences worship "is" and individualistic experience so therefore communion steps into that mode as well while loosing the true meaning of the word communion - thanksgiving in a communal setting.

It's the fact that you are facing a HUGE cultural distinctives between lower/and high church mentality in situations such as this. And yes, for those who find that it is more than just bread and grape juice you're also recognizing that in seminaries such as ours there is a broad distinctives between "sacrament" and "ordinance" - and that might be where the discussion finds its roots.

frank's wild lunch said...

This actually does sound Methodist, at least in the juice, shot glass, loaf of bread elements. Although I think you'd find that traditional Methodist churches and ministers would have a reasonable amount of integrity about the serving of communion in the sacramental sense.

I can relate to this being odd to you; imagine my bizarre reaction to tasting wine out of a cup that a bunch of strangers just drank from! Gross! )To this day I still do intinction, even if whoever's administering it dribbles down my surplice.) And then I had to do it all over again the next week? Very odd. I'm used to it now, but I still don't cross myself!

Funny, I went to a local Methodist church and had a similar weird experience -- they went through the whole service and served communion after the benediction. They just called folks up to the front if they wanted to partake. I'm sure they were doing it the right way otherwise, but I fled; it was just too weird to have it occur fully out of the service.

The way I see it, those Methodists can have communion any way they want to if they'll stop giving their pastors permission to deny gay people church membership.

The Feminarian said...

No, no - this isn't the wine vs. grape juice debate. I don't care what the heck is in your cup (although if you want to be historical you should substitute water for wine, not grape juice) as long as it is a communal cup!

The thing that bothered me about this event was that there were no prayers, no blessing, no anamnesis, no communal participation, no symbolism, no meaning to the rite.

For God's sake, the meaning of communion is not wrapped up in wine vs. grape juice! Come on, people!

The Feminarian said...

I didn't mean to sound like that - I just reread all the comments and I see the grape juice thing wasn't universally held up.

Well, I won't get into the whole argument about the elements used. Honestly, I'm not sure I care. I care a lot more about the events surrounding the actual elements. How they are explained and how they go beyond words to point to Jesus/God's story. I didn't feel like we were getting out of ourselves in this situation - I didn't feel it connected to the larger church or the story of God. So that was why I didn't participate.

I take juice all the time - do it at all my family members' churches. I don't like it, but they don't like wine at mine, and we deal. What is important is what it means. And not what it means to me personally (although of course we can have wonderful personal moments of connection with God), but more importantly, what it is forming me into.

Does that make any sense?

Anonymous said...

get off the high-church horse. the first communion was a dinner party - not some formalized, mechanical ritual!

frank's wild lunch said...

No, I get it, Fem. And party seems like a strange word to describe the Last Supper, but anyway....

One way to look at it might be to see a challenge in finding ways to benefit from imperfect practices. How can we take this ritual we perceive to be broken or inadequate (or inadequately executed), participate in it, and decide that we're going to learn from it or be transformed by it, brokenness and all? That's probably advice to apply to living in general, but anyway.... Perhaps if I'd gotten over how weird it was to have communion after the service was over at that Methodist Church and just gone up taken it with everyone, I'd still be going there.

Oh, except for the anti-gay thing. Ehh, something to think about, I guess.

The Feminarian said...

The Last Supper was dining, not a party, not a snack. That's why it's important what we do - we remember Jesus with a formal occasion because God is certainly worth our best. We don't do Eucharist with pizza and beer because that is snacking, not dining.

Plus, there is nothing more formalized and mechanical than taking a tiny shotglass of juice from a silver tin. Sipping wine from a communal cup is dangerous and wonderful.

Also all posters please identify yourselves. I like this to be an open forum and it doesn't feel safe when people are hiding behind anonymity. Particularly when you're leaning towards being insulting.

janinsanfran said...

Isn't the Eucharist a meal we take TOGETHER? Leastways, that is what it is for me. I can pray Morning Prayer alone -- but the sacramental meal is a community feast, the symbolic banquet of the Lord.

Please understand though, our parish has an excellent spread at coffee hour often visited by neighborhood folks who need a meal -- and don't need to sit through some long incomprehensible ritual, so they come in at the end. That meal too seems to me to have a sacramental (outward and visible sign of inward and spirtual grace) quality.

The Feminarian said...

I just hope I can help to make rituals not...
long
incomprehensible
inflexible
mechanical
formalized

I mean, I don't even know where all that comes from...but I guess I've been lucky that at my church they are anything but. For me they are nothing but life-giving. And it's a lot easier to be picky about them when you've seen what they can do when they're done well. It's not a personal preference thing - it's proof of what works from 2000 years of working on it.

And obviously doing it badly leads to some damage, and some pretty crazy ideas about ritual in general. So of course it is vitally important to do everything in our power to do things right. When we do, the biggest part of the ritual becomes the prayer for God to show up. And usually that happens.

I'm not saying God won't show up otherwise, but if we don't even ask, why would God intrude? This one we did the other night didn't ask God to come. It was about God but it wasn't about encountering God. And to me, that's pointless.

Lisa in FL said...

Hello-- I've lurked on your blog on and off for awhile.

I'm married to a soon-to-be-former youth pastor in a conservative church. We have been doing a lot of thinking and talking over the past few years over the increasing disconnect between the way our faith has changed and the evangelical movement. Out of conscience, knowing that we are unable to be honest about our faith in our current situation, he decided to leave the ministry.

After we leave our church, we are planning to investigate other traditions. We've grown up evangelical, that's what we know and where we've met God over the years, where we've shared and laughed cried and ministered and been ministered to and yes, had Communion out of little plastic cups. With crackers. Going to something utterly different is scary.

So I felt the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach when I read your post. I freely admit this is partly due to the emotional state I'm in right now, but I felt that what you are saying is the Communion I've experienced my whole life is cheap and fake and invalid.

I would never dismiss your traditions, your way of meeting with God and with other believers, because it wasn't mine. (And despite coming from a more conservative theology, neither would the church we're currently in.) I'm just surprised, I think, and a little worried that we'll encounter the same attitude in the churches we'll be visiting.

The Feminarian said...

I am sorry. Please forgive me. If you read the newest post I hope you can understand where I am coming from. But regardless my intent is never to make anyone feel bad and certainly never to get down on someone who is different from me. I only try to look at what things speak and how symbols mean and analyze that and question everything that could be harmful or not biblical or not bring people closer to God.

I don't understand why you feel like I punched you. But I've been crying for an hour about it. So please know that I am really really sorry. I am so upset that I hurt you and I don't even know you but I don't want you to hate me and please don't think people are jerks in high churches. Please know that.

Mother said...

Why I Let My Yes Be Yes: a Soliloquy on the Sacrament for Memorial Day
http://gottesblog.blogspot.com/

Steve Hayes said...

I can identify with what you said in this post. Many years ago, in another life, I was part of a group of clergy of different denominations that were supposed to be uniting, and they had a special service to commit unity. They had them all over the country, and the Church Unity Commission produced an order of service, and we had the service in the local Methodist Church.

They pulled names out of a hat to decide who did what -- the Methodist would preach, the Presbyterian would do the intercessions (but the Congregationalist objected because the Presbyterian was charismatic and might burst out into tongues or something). The Anglican consecrated the elements (which were Anglican blotting paper and Methodist furniture polish).

And while they were arguing about how to do it, it became very clear to me, at least, that their conceptions of what we were supposed to be doing (the Eucharist) were so far removed from each other that unity must be a long way off.

That experience cured me of any notion that intercommunion was or could be a means to unity.

And it was more than 30 years ago, and they are still no more united than they were back then.