Eucharist [Pt. 2]

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul in his letter to the Romans, 8:38-39. If I may be so bold as to add one to the list, I’d say that the church cannot separate you from the love of God, especially through the Eucharist table. I believe that a tragic misreading of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, coupled with any power structure’s natural bent toward exclusion, has inappropriately disqualified many from partaking of the Lord’s table. All ought to be welcome at the table of the Lord. An open table is an inviting table.

A bad reading of some rules Paul gave to the church in Corinth. See, as I understand it, the Eucharist was a new practice for this first century church, and in their Greco-Roman culture of the day, there was a social strata. There were already customs of feasts and gatherings in these cities, but it was organized according to class and social status. So when Christianity swept through this area of the world and many saw the beauty of Christ and his message, the church formed around an idea that was directly opposed to the culture of the day, namely, the poor now ate with the rich as equals in the dignity and goodness of both belonging to the body of Christ and recognizing the goodness and holiness in each other.

Except, old habits die hard, and the rich in this particular city were starting the party early to pre-game with all their buddies before the poor had the chance to show up because they weren’t released by their masters or off work for the day. So by the time the poor arrived, there was little food left at the Eucharist table. Of course, this just made the Christian church look like everything else in the culture, instead of the upside-down, “first shall be last” core teaching of Jesus. So Paul warned these rich dudes to wait for the table to be full before they began eating, unless they wanted to eat and drink themselves into a stupor before the poor showed up, thereby “eating and drinking judgment upon themselves”, meaning that the city culture around them just took them for another party and not the radical, counter-cultural thing they were attempting to model and encourage. They were disgracing the radical work Jesus started by regressing into their old lives and excluding the very beloved ones that he had died to redeem. The unworthy manner of partaking in Eucharist meal is excluding the poor and more needy at one end of the table, not recognizing the dignity and equality of all humanity. The same old traps of riches, wealth, status, position, and thinking you are more righteous than “that” man. Paul envisions the table for what it was intended to be at it’s institution in that Upper Room, a place where all are sustained by the body and blood of the human Lord, a place where we are served by the foot-washing king. No one is beneath Jesus or beneath sharing a meal with him and his people. No one.

That’s where it started, but of course, a church system that grows around any kind of doctrines or teachings will eventually develop a power dynamic with it’s masses, especially when eternities are at stake and the very Word of God is ordaining it. Go ahead, you claim that you’re doing the Lord’s work, regardless of if you are doing it or not. Say it loud enough and often enough and act as if it’s true, and you will gain power. Claim that you have the power to forgive sins yourself, absolve your flock, lead them into the light and snatch them from the cobweb that grips them precariously over the lake of fire, you’d get powerful too.

Power is a curious thing…Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall and a very small man can cast a very long shadow. – Lord Varys, Game of Thrones (S2E3)

Power inspires bigger cathedrals, fancier robes, gold lined plates, extravagant altars, taller hats (in the case of the pope). Power suggests that those entrusted with the fancy stuff, with the better costumes, should be separated from the masses to preserve their power and grip on the image. Power asks for more adjectives and labels, more dividing lines drawn, more separation, more exclusion. This, my friends, is when a bad exegetical reading of a letter by Paul pairs nicely with the nature of power. The church use this passage about eating the Eucharist meal in an “unworthy manner” to teach that you’re not worthy if you’re not a part of the system that they defined for themselves. Are you a confirmed Catholic? Are you the right kind of inerrentist, creationist, apologist, cessationist, determinist Calvinist, evangelist, apostolic, complementarian, pre-millennial, non-denominational (but closeted Baptist) Evangelical that defends the sanctity of marriage on the Supreme Court steps, that got your purity ring at age 12 and shared your first kiss at the marriage altar, that fights the culture war as hard as you’d fight the empire’s real war with your 12 stockpiled guns which are named after the 12 tribes of Israel under the banner of the divinely inspired and ordained red, white and blue? No? Then you don’t get communion either, it’s just for us.

[Please, please, please hear me when I say that I have no one person in mind. Caricatures are easy to vilify, so I leaned into the satirical absurd. I’m choosing to lean into every label I can think of to help support my point, which is that we divide over small things when we’re allowed the luxury to do so, and that that division lends to excluding the very lovable people that Christ made room at the table for]

The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Neither slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one body, knit together by partaking of one body. Not only are we looking forward to a future in which we are one under Christ, we are softly listening to what this meal is doing to in causing us to become one in this very present moment. The holy city consummated between heaven and earth in the final chapters of scripture paint an image in metaphor of a cosmic city, stretching North, West, South, and East. Encompassing all creation with a holy dwelling place, lit by the glory and light of the Christ that leaves the gates thrown wide open. Amen and amen.

The Eucharistic meal is meant to be a microcosmic event, summarizing at one table what is true in the whole macrocosm: We are one, we are equal in dignity, we all eat of the same divine food, and Jesus is still and always “eating with sinners” (for which people hated him) just as he did when on Earth. – Richard Rohr

Contrary to what I learned as a younger man, this is not a time to remind myself about how shitty I am, or be afraid of what “wrath” I may be drinking upon myself with unconfessed sin in my heart (because who doesn’t have that?). This is a time to reflect on beauty, grace, the messy and beautiful realities of being knit together with those beloved humans humble enough to say “I am not sustained, but by the Eucharist that you too eat and of which I share with you.” Now, instead, I choose to speak and call the words of the great traditional prayer of invitation:

“This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”

Eucharist [Pt. 1]

“This is my body given for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20). The breaking of bread and pouring of wine, to commemorate the new covenant made between the Divine and Man (Mark 14:12-26). Also called the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion, depending on your denominational ilk, this ancient and sacred meal sits at the very heart of the gospel message that we get to engage. I was recently reminded of the oddly ordinary origins of Eucharist, by dear friends gracious enough to share their home, table, and a cup of coffee with me and my wife.

You see, I don’t particularly believe that the meal requires a loaf of bread or an oyster cracker to be proper. Welch’s often substitutes wine, but what even says the drink must be red? Our hosts shared that they strive to share coffee together on the couch every evening together as work days end, school days close, and kids play and prepare for bed. This is the moment that they intentionally carve for themselves as a couple, creating an open space for conversation, to share worries, to share each other’s joys. In their words, this is their “daily communion”. If coffee can serve as a reminder that we live into a larger faith like this, then by all means, do not make it about the wine or the wafer. A common, ordinary act can serve to remind us of universal beauties.

Eucharist is about the body broken and the blood poured out. Christ, upon the institution of this sacrament, was packing so many realities of the kingdom of Heaven into this gesture. Using a bit of bread leftover from the religious feast of Passover, and a cup with a bit of wine left, he chose these ordinary elements to infuse with radical, cosmos-altering life. Providing us a pattern, in which we can live such radical love that it may feel like our own bodies are broken and our blood is running dry. But with a hope beyond, seeing that there is a three day period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday in which the body is rebuilt and the blood poured back in. That is the rhythm we remind ourselves of in this meal. This is the rhythm that we enter into every morning. There’s a time for the broken, a time for the whole; a time for the drained, a time for the full. All this, we can learn and be reminded of every time we make a piece of toast with our eggs, pour a cup of coffee to share with your husband, or share your home table with a friend.

It’s an ordinary thing to eat a meal, but now it gets to be sacred. You must eat to survive, but with a Eucharistic attitude, Communion is no longer eating. In this new covenant, baptism is no longer getting wet. Jesus turns the old world upside down in the privacy of this upper room, instituting a practice for millennia to come as all come to this sacred table. He forsakes the temples, laughs at the powerful, kisses sinners and heals the unclean; an upside down kind of kingdom makes ordinary bread and wine holy, with no need for wealth and riches, for the riches are found in joy, love, and connection. Again, we enter into a holy rhythm, imbibing the symbolic elements of the Christ, activated and motivated then to break our body for those who also need food for the stomach and for the soul. We receive so that we may give. If Christ’s work on the cross finally took sin, violence, and death out of circulation, then our sharing in this holy meal ought to bring an abundance of grace, joy, and love in to circulation.

Finally, communion is not taken alone. Consider that the word is comprised of two words, common and union; neither speak of isolation or faith on a metaphorical island. We share this meal among family, friends, church community, because we knit ourselves together in this way. By taking the symbolic holy body of Christ within us, we affirm the holy church, the catholic (universal) vision of the church. We, as the enduring, spiritual body, tie ourselves to those who see a more beautiful way to live and love in this world by following the Christ way. We anchor ourselves to a church that spreads far and wide over the globe and also spans millennia into the past and perhaps the future. This all, and more, is what we enter into when we share this common meal. And a cup of coffee at a friend’s house could serve as a perfect reminder of such a holy thing.