I became a Christian through the Protestant tradition actually the Bible church tradition is more accurate. Actually the mega church Bible church tradition in Texas is more on target. I tell you this because in our tradition the emphasis on communion (Eucharist, Lord’s Table whichever term you deem worthy) is minimal. In fact I think I’m just coming to an “ah ha” moment about the mystery of Eucharist. Previously my church would take communion, oh, lets say whenever we realized we hadn’t “done” it in a while. Then we would sit in rows and pass this plate of stale square wafers as we waited for the silver tray with the little red grate juice glasses. The pastor would say a few words from the Scriptures about the elements then we privately prayed while quiet music was played from the stage. Later our church’s history we started to break bread and drink the red grape juice more often. There seemed to be a change in thinking of the importance of “doing” communion more often. Instead of passing in our seats we know were ushered row by row down front to take the stale white wafer and dig into a cup of red grape juice. From there we could go to the altar and pray as music played from the stage. I liked this change. I liked watching the whole congregation move towards the table. I can’t explain it but it had a sense of wholeness, community, oneness to it. And the bending and kneeling before the altar was a reminder of my desperate need of Jesus and from the looks of it others too.
I think what really started my journey of recognizing the mystery and desperate need for communion was when I stood in the pulpit on Sundays and led the congregation to the Table. Something about watching a sea of people walk towards the tables, partake then bend their knees at the altar. Well, all I can say is it was holy. That’s when I started doing some reading on this whole idea of bread and wine. I’ll be honest I’m still learning. I think I’ve but scratched the surface. When you administer the elements things happen in the midst of it. Things you couldn’t predict. Like the time a lesbian couple approached the Table then turned and asked if they were allowed to partake. Or the time a Catholic approached me to receive a blessing or the time a person asked, is this a symbolic act or is Christ really in the bread and the wine? Again, let me say – I’m still learning.
I now attend an Anglican church in downtown Dallas. We do communion every week. The Bishop spends time preparing the elements in front of the congregation. He prays. Then slowly row by row we are dismissed to the altar. There’s no sense of being rushed. In fact it feels like this is the center or climax of the morning. At the altar we bend our knees and wait to be served the elements. The Bishop blesses us as he passes us the bread and wine (finally a church that gets Jesus didn’t serve red grape juice!) That’s not the end of the process but you get the point – I need to be in a place where renew is offered through the Table. I need Jesus. I need him in the context of his community. There’s just something holy about it. I can’t explain it. Nor do I want to. Steve and I don’t attend our Anglican church often. Our travels take us to many other churches around the globe. It’s privilege to worship with God’s universal church. This past week we attended a Catholic church. And it’s that event that’s made me ponder Communion once more. I’m a Protestant, for whatever that means, I’m not really sure I’m a Protestant but that’s what my training has been so I guess I am. Hum…Anyways, I digress. But there I am at this Catholic church and they move into communion. I was angst. I so wanted, no, needed to be renewed by the bread and wine of Christ but I’m not Catholic and I didn’t want to offend their tradition that only Catholics can come to the Table. So I sat. Until Steve got up to partake.
“What are you doing? You can’t take communion here!”
Yes I can.
And away he went.
That made it harder. I wanted to go up too. So I did.
Today I came across this article about Pope Francis and his view on communion. I know I could get shot for saying this but I think if Pope Francis was in that Catholic church he would have served me the elements – even as a Protestant.
“Who am I to judge?” With those five words, Pope Francis “stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of popes and bishops,” writes columnist James Carroll. Francis made that statement in July, in response to a reporter’s question about the status of gay priests in the Church. In a new article about Francis in The New Yorker, Carroll describes the pope as having “unilaterally declared a kind of truce in the culture wars that have divided the Vatican and much of the world.”
On the lifestyle Francis has chosen during his first year as pope
Pope Francis … in that wonderful phrase “Who am I to judge?” is exercising authority by invitation, by words of welcome and by inviting people to imitate the way he lives and the way he behaves. So, his choices of lifestyle — the fact that he doesn’t live in the apostolic palace, the traditional residence of popes. He lives in a small, two-room apartment, effectively in the hostel in which the Vatican welcomes visitors. He has turned away from the regalia, the Renaissance style of the papacy. He declines to wear the traditional red slip-ons and wears his old, somewhat worn black shoes.
All of this has touched the imaginations of Catholics and many other people, clearly, and the thing that is moving about it is he initiates change at this level without attacking anybody. He has not named antagonists, he has not criticized other bishops who live like princes. He is basically making changes with a spirit of humility and welcome to other people, and that has touched people very, very deeply, I would say.
On communion as a “barrier”
Communion has been treated as food for those who are not hungry: food for the well-fed, food for the well-behaved. Popes and bishops have used the sacrament of the Eucharist, the mass, as a kind of boundary marker. You’re in if you obey all the rules, and you’re out if you don’t. If you’re not a Catholic, if you’re a Protestant not in communion with the papacy, if you’re a divorced and remarried Catholic, if you’re using birth control, if you’ve committed any of the long list of sins that have been emphasized over the years, don’t go to communion. …
The word excommunication refers to being outside of communion. Pope Francis speaks in a very different way. He said, quite explicitly, the Church is not a toll house; we’re not interested in having a barrier here that has to be raised only for those who are worthy. No, communion is for people who are hungry. … It’s for those who are not whole so that they can become whole. (Read more here)