God: The Lord’s Supper

Quick question, for every single one of you who might possibly have an answer: in what way is What We Do as Communion (and by “We,” there, I mean the group you belong to — Catholic, Methodist, whatever) anything close to the circumstance of the Last Supper?

Consider this very carefully before you completely disregard it: How would our version be any different, if after each of the prayers we injected a single molecule of carbon?

Honestly, I see no other deviation (although a greater degree, but none fundamentally DIFFERENT) from the Biblical account in that extreme than in our own practice.

What is the point? More importantly, why hold up as a fundamental rite something that we have so completely alienated from its origin and stripped of all meaning?

I know those who take comfort from knowing that Christians, everywhere, are doing the same thing at the same time (for a given value of “Christians” and, of course, “same”). I understand that — I understand the value of an inclusive ritual to the maintenance of a distinctive community — however, for that purpose a secret handshake would be exactly as effective.

I suppose a huge portion of what bothers me is…not the name, but implicit in the name. Communion. I ALWAYS thought, growing up, that the name referred to the Communion of the Saints (that inclusivity I just mentioned). It’s the thing that we, as a community, do together. Arguing the topic with friends in college, I discovered for the first time that a lot of people (most of ’em?) think of it as Communion with God. That makes a LOT more sense given our extremely antisocial, library-quiet performance of the rite. It reminds me of a thing we did at church camp one year, when I was younger. “Time Alone With God.” We had fifteen minutes set aside every couple of hours for precisely that purpose. There were no refreshments, though….

Y’see, here’s where it really gets to me. The origin of the ritual is a meal. A highly social meal, where a community forms its inclusive bonds, not through the simple fact of a shared ritual, but through the social experience created by the very acts of the ritual. We use the term “breaking of bread” today to refer to this proper, stylized event, but we get that very wording from a Greek phrase that was practically slang — a very casual phrase meaning, “to get together to eat.” The root of “breaking of bread” practically means “hanging out at Braums.”

I mean, to start, to see the way God operates in his establishing of ritual (at least this particular vein), look at the Passover. It was a family’s dinner. The ritual (that is, the maintenance of the experience beyond the first, actual event) was structured as a conversation the family would have over dinner. “Hey, papa, why are we eating unleavened bread and strangely-cooked lamb?” And his answer incorporated the whole history of the Passover, and God’s redemption of the Israelite slaves.

That exchange became very ritual. The exact wording became important (as far as I understand it), and the whole dinner became something of a script. That’s not a big surprise to me, given what we read in the New Testament of the legalization of the Israelite religion. What does surprise me is that, in our religion based significantly on Jesus’ negative response to that legalization, we have turned our version of the Passover into a more strictly stylized rite than even the Pharisees had done with theirs.

Here are my arguing points: the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a SUPPER. And I’m not focusing on the meal aspect necessarily (on the food, the nourishment), but on the social aspect of eating together. Think of the monthly (or semi-monthly or…occasional) fellowship meals at your church. Think of the socializing. Think of the sense of inclusivity THAT generates.

You’re right. It’s not as poignant as the practice of the rigorous ritual. That’s no surprise to me. That’s WHY we create legalistic rites. It’s to capture as much of the feel of the thing as we can, without having to do the long-term work. We don’t have to build RELATIONSHIPS with all these other Christians, we just have to know that we’re taking the same brand of crackers and the same thimbleful of grape juice at the same time and, boy howdy, we are ONE.

There’s another argument to it. You might point out that Jesus established the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of what he did. He said, “This do in remembrance of me.” You KNOW that’s true, because it’s carved on our…whatever-you-call-it-that’s-not-exactly-an-altar-because-y’know-we’re-protestants. Jesus ESTABLISHED the Lord’s Supper as a ritual to remember him.

But even there…. First of all, in at least one version of that passage, his wording was, “As often as you do this,” which, again, strikes me as more a redirecting of the sentiment of the Passover meal than as the establishment of a new Thing. That aside, he WAS clearly drawing on the basis of the Passover meal (as they were actively participating in the Passover meal when he established his procedure), and the Passover meal was, in the manner of a meal, a memorial. In other words, the memorial was there, within the social experience. It is NOT a private experience, taken concurrently with the rest of a community. It wasn’t in Jewish practice, and there’s no reason to imagine Jesus intended it to be one in Christian practice. We as a COMMUNITY are supposed to share this ritual together, socially, as a reminder of Christ’s gift to us.

As a matter of fact, that’s the whole POINT. The Passover meal, taken in silence, would be nothing other than…gross food. The ritual, the meaning, the POWER of the Passover meal was in the conversation. God established it in that way. It’s the whole point.

Take note. I’ve been accused (and will be forever) of arguing theology toward my own comforts. Y’know, if I’m right about not having to go to church all the time then, hey, I can relax at home during those hours I would’ve had to spend in the grueling environs of a church building. I can’t tell you how much accusations like that offend me, but I don’t generally feel compelled to respond to them. I still won’t.

But look at this one. Reread everything I wrote. The entire point of the Communion, I hold, is to bring us together socially, to bind us in INTERACTION (not observance of the one or two appointed men who speaks a short statement and a prayer). Any one of you who knows me well enough to be reading this, knows how incredibly uncomfortable such a thing would make me.

I’m shuddering at the thought, even now.

But I’m almost certain that’s the whole point of the process. I’m not calling you all to make an ages-old religion more comfortable for me. I’m asking you to look at your Saltine and your Welches and tell me exactly how that process binds you to God. I’m asking you recognize the vast distance between the Communion as we practice it, and the Communion as Christ designed it, and dare to imagine what it COULD be.

2 thoughts on “God: The Lord’s Supper

  1. Court

    So, I was gonna just save up comments on ancient posts for some future email….sound familiar? ;o) But then I read this post, and my jaw dropped, and I must comment *now*. First of all, because I agree with everything you wrote here, and second because I couldn’t believe nobody commented on it!

    Ed and I meet with a house church every Sunday evening. We eat a meal together and even though at this point, we’re still keeping the “bread & wine” separate from the rest of the meal, we still interact (read: talk) with each other as we eat the bread (not crackers) and drink the juice (in cups, not thimbles).

    Join us?

  2. Court

    P.S. I know it’s a sad comment on the state of the church’s community, but….

    “…boy howdy, we are ONE” totally cracked me up. ;o)

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