Wafer Madness: 500 years of communion arguments made simple

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What happens to the elements and the people who consume them? When we are talking about Communion, the answer is “it depends”. The options are listed below from “Why bother?” to “I’m seriously considering becoming a wafer-addict!

Memorial: Nothing happens to the elements. Nothing happens to the people.

Calvin: Nothing happens to the elements. Something happens to the people (Jesus is present when faith is present).

Lutheran: Something happens (is added to) the elements (Jesus is “in, under, and through”). Something happens to those who eat (when faith is present).

Orthodox: Something happens to the elements (but that “something” is left undefined). Something happens to those who eat (when faith is present).

Roman: Something happens to the elements (a complex and nuanced “transubstantiation”) and something happens to those who eat (when faith is present).

Does what someone believes about communion matter? If you are a memorialist, since nothing changes and nothing happens, not really. However, if you believe Calvin’s position, it matters. And, if you believe the Lutheran, Orthodox or Catholic view, it matters even more.

Yes, the Eucharist can mean nothing if you do not approach the table with eyes of faith. But is Holy Communion, at its best, intended to be a “Happy Meal” (fun, but no real nutritional value) or a “Magic Cracker” (that will change you if you let it)? The issue isn’t really what you or I think it is or want it to be, but what the Scriptures say it is, and what the early and undivided church taught it to be.

Beyond the facts is the experience of being changed in a Eucharistic community. You can down a wheat chip cellophaned to the top of a disposable cup, or you can feast at the family meal of the Body of Christ. I am hard-pressed to understand why someone who could eat gourmet in their neighborhood bistro gratis would settle for a Happy Meal from the drive-through. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

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 Am I advocating wafer madness? Maybe a little.

While song is the worship language of memorialists and the megachurch, supper is the historic worship language of the church. This isn’t about preference, but about faithfully practicing what was given to us by Jesus, the New Testament authors, and the early and undivided church. For three-quarters of Christian history, Word and Sacrament was literally the ONLY paradigm for worship. This Sunday it will characterize the worship of more than two-thirds of the world’s Christians. I am not trying to be negative, or run down another’s “tradition.” But I do want to say that when you find yourself spiritually hungry, a meal awaits.

If song is your only worship language, consider experiencing the blessings of bi-lingual worship – add supper.

I’m Lovin’ it!

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Eucharist for Newbies

Photo credit: Lifeteen

Photo credit: Lifeteen

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A light look at 10 things you should know before Sunday.

When American evangelicals think of worship what generally comes to mind is song and sermon. But for most of the Christian era and for most in the Christian era, “worship” has meant Scripture and Sacrament…in other words, Communion…the Eucharist.

1. “Eucharista” is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” You can thank Paul for that: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”  (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

2. Interestingly, there is only one instance when Jesus used the phrase “New Testament” or “New Covenant” (diatheke). He used it, not to describe a book, but the Eucharist. This comes from the earliest historical record of the last Supper, written within perhaps twenty years of the event: “In the same way [Jesus] also [took] the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor 11:25; emphasis added). So, according to the New Testament, the Eucharist is the New Testament. Long before anyone assembled a book called the New Testament, Jesus had given the chalice as the New Testament in his blood (see Lk 22:20).  (Scott Hahn, The Eucharist in the New Testament)

3. The Eucharist, though, is not just in Paul, there are explicit references to the Eucharist in all four Gospels, Acts, Jude, and Revelation. Over the last fifty years Protestant scholars (John Koenig, Geoffrey Wainwright, Arthur Just, John DelHoussaye) have described a “Eucharistic Provenance of the New Testament.”  These are Protestant scholars recognizing that the New Testament was written to be read aloud in the context of the assembly (Rev 1:3) – and Christians assembled for the meal we call the Eucharist.

4. There are five views of the Eucharist: At the top is the Roman View – The elements incur a essential change, transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, becoming a “Magic Cracker” that appears to be bread, but is, in fact the body of Christ. On the bottom is the memorialist view, in which nothing happens, it is just a “Happy Meal.”* In between, from bottom to top are the views of Calvin (Nothing happens to the elements, but Jesus is present as we lift our hearts in faith), the Lutheran view (the elements become both/and: Jesus and bread/wine), and the Orthodox view (the elements become Jesus, but how and what exactly happens to the elements is a mystery humans cannot define).

5. In Anglicanism there is room for all five views, although very few are memorialists. At the beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth was called on to decide whether or not England would remain Catholic, as it had been under “Bloody Mary,” or continue along toward Reformation Protestantism, as was occurring on the continent. As most religious disputes of the day were fought over communion, the clergy reportedly asked, “Which is it, (literally) the ‘body of Christ‘ or (a memorial) ‘The bread of heaven‘?” As the story goes, Elizabeth said something to the effect, “I will not be in the business of peering into men’s souls. When you deliver communion you will say, ‘The body of Christ comma the bread of heaven.'” Basically she was saying, “Communion will be what the person receiving believes it to be.” It is the origin of Anglicanism’s “majoring on the majors”…or “Anglican fudge,” depending on your perspective.

6. The early church repeatedly describes the elements as becoming and being the “body of Christ.” They said, in effect, “Jesus is really here.” But they refused to over-define what that meant. “Transubstantiation,” the word Roman Catholics use to  indicate that the elements truly become the body and blood of Christ, is a word that doesn’t appear until the 11th century. Seminary students are aware that over-definition can be a particular charism of scholasticism. Because both scripture and the unbroken testimony of the early church insist on it, I personally believe in “real presence.” Memorialism ignores far too much scripture and the consistent testimony of the early church (1 Cor 11:29-30) …Why were people getting ill and dying if it is just a reminder? Although the argument could be made that the McDonald’s “Happy Meal” will probably kill you also. Transubstantiation is more specific than can be proved from scripture and causes some significant real world problems – If a frat boy snags a wafer in a prank and runs, do we really have the God of the universe in a prankster’s pocket?

7. The Eucharist is a Sacrament (Yes, Protestants too have Sacraments). Sacrament is Latin for oath…or promise. Simply put: we are promised that we experience Jesus when we obey Jesus…especially when we obey Jesus in the ways Jesus commanded…which is why Protestants traditionally recognize two Sacraments: Baptism & Eucharist, and refer to the rest as “sacramental rites” – permitted and edifying, but not mandated. Btw, for Protestants bugged that Catholics invented the “T word” in the 1100s, Baptists came up the word “ordinance” in their Confession of 1689 to avoid the word “sacrament.”

8. This is not a new sacrifice: Scripture is clear: “Christ…suffered once for sins.” (1 Pet 3:18) The re-presentation of Christ is a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” (BCP, 363)

9. Eucharist is the original Christian altar call: We come forward, we kneel in humility, we hold outstretched hands as the needy ones we are, and we receive, not grab, the Lord. We receive his grace in humility. We come to receive afresh the grace of God given at the Father’s initiation and at Christ’s expense. All baptized Christians are welcome at the family meal of the Body of Christ. As Cyril described in 400, we make a throne with our hands to receive the body of Christ.

10. At St. Jude’s we use a Eucharistic prayer adapted from the Prayer of Hippolytus written in 315CE. We are following a pattern that was explained as standard Christian worship by Justin Martyr in 150CE. Think about that: What Christians do in the Eucharist is so old that it was already described as the standard and assumed worship pattern of Christians as close to the closing of the NT canon as the writing of the New Testament was to the Lord walking on earth.

Do you want to worship like the early Christians? Try worshipping Eucharisticly. It will bless you.

As Augustine said, “Be what you see; receive what you are.” (Augustine, Sermon 272) -The body of Christ.

So, if you have not before, this Sunday join a celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

The Lord be with you!

*The terms “Magic Cracker” and “Happy Meal” were used in a friendly debate over beer. My Roman Catholic friend insisted, “It is indeed ‘magic cracker.'” My memorialist friend replied, “No. It is only a ‘Happy Meal.’ Fun, but no nutritional value is present.”

Clergy Gone Wild: Clowning Around With Communion.

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Content warning: Sarcastic blog post. Cynicism intended in love.

Awhile back we saw a spate of “interesting” Eucharists. These included, I kid you not, Seuss-charists, Clown-charists, Pirate Eucharists and a tailgate Eucharist at a Baltimore Raven’s game. A youth director friend, Jeremy Knight, and I were thinking one recent evening that there are many imaginative ways to devalue the Holy Eucharist that have yet to be attempted. Here are a few that came readily to mind…

1. Bear-suit-vestmentscharist: What’s more inviting than a guy in a bear suit?

2. The Hobbitcharist – The procession is an Orcish hoard and the host is referred to as “my precious.”

3. Jeopardycharist: “I’ll take the bread and cup for $300, please.”

4. Avatarcharist: It’s just like the “DancesWithWolvescharist” only in 3d.

5. RockyHorrorPictureShowcharist For children of the ’80’s. Starts at midnight. The virgin gets praised, not spanked and, for the Gloria, we can “Do the Time-warp Again.”

6. StarTrekcharist: Word on the street is that Shatner is a postulant for Holy Orders in L.A.

7. Paintballcharist: Anyone who doesn’t genuflect gets double-tapped.

8. Transformerscharist: Save the planet and uphold a transubstantiationist doctrine at the same time.

9. Nudecharist: Warning, only works with the right celebrant.

10. FindingNemocharist: After all, fish and loaves are biblical imagery.

11. Mariocharist…followed by Super-Mariocharist.

12. Ninjacharist: Don’t mock it, Ninjas will take you out.

13. Ryan Seacristcharist: Just because it sounds funny and, hey, we’re Americans, we can always find a new Idol to worship.

All of which are signs of the apocalypse-charist. And finally…

14. MockGodcharist: Haven’t we already? I really do know that this isn’t anyone’s motive. But we sure look like weirdos here.

I am part of a church with an average age of about 22, not a fuddy-duddy. But even I have to wonder why we have trouble realizing that the Holy Eucharist is, as Prayer A says, “a memorial of our redemption,” and treat it with a little respect.

Anglican Christians know the power of the Eucharist. We know it is the best tool in our toolbox. Our recent oddball Eucharists bring an old aphorism to mind: “to a person with nothing in their toolbox but a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” We know the Eucharist “works,” but is it the only tool in our box? And, if the Eucharist is the “answer” to what ails the Episcopal Church, is it the answer to every question – like the old preacher’s joke about the Sunday School teacher who describes in detail a squirrel and asks the students if they know what the answer is and the kid says, “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I guess the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.” Can we at least agree that the answer is not to out-weird each other at the altar? How are these odd-sauce Eucharists any different from the shameless attention seeking that we see and critique in the evangelical world…like for example the local church that put an Octogon on their platform and challenged people to “Get in the cage and fight for Jesus”?

When we do these “creative” celebrations of the Lord’s Supper we appear self-referential, theologically squirrelly and missionally clueless. Do we actually believe that if we just dress up the bread, wine and our clergy with enough silliness the world will beat a path to our door?

I have heard it said that these are “great for kids.” Help me understand this, what happens when the kids find out their priest isn’t really a clown? Or (wait for it) that they actually are?

Wouldn’t it be far more helpful if, instead of inviting people to outlandish communion celebrations, we returned to the ancient church practice of going to the world; loving and serving people and speaking of our motivation rooted in the hope we have in the resurrected Christ? Or we could just sit around the office typing up more kooky Eucharists for liturgical junkies. Anyone for a Djangocharist? It would be high-action, and justice oriented – very attractional. We’d pack ’em in!