“Toward a More Holy Communion (Part Two)”
I would like to think that my theology—a catch-all term for how I think about God, Jesus, Spirit, church, community, the world, and the meaning and purpose of life—is far too complex to be boiled down to a few simple sentences. I would hope that my faith journey is much too nuanced and ever-evolving to be reduced to a meme.
But I also hope and pray that I never become too sophisticated or individuated to recognize and receive the good news, regardless of how simply or narrowly it is delivered.
And so it is that, as we continue our two-part reconsideration of the sacrament of Holy Communion, I want to share with you a sentiment I recently came across on the socials:
“Before the truth can set you free, you need to recognize which lie is holding you hostage.”
I’ll say it again: Before the truth can set us free, we need to recognize which lie—or lieS, plural—is holding us hostage.
Now, those of you playing the where-in-the-Bible parlor game may recognize the first part of that sentence as something Jesus said. Indeed, you’ll find it in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus is—characteristically—trying to explain who he is and what he’s about and, as usual, offending any number of religious people. After a good many people listening to him have rejected his teachings and walked away, Jesus says to those who are left: “If you stay with me and follow me, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
But even those who want to trust Jesus take offense at that statement.
“We’re not slaves to anything,” insist these oppressed subjects of the Roman Empire. Who do you think you are, telling us we need to be set free?”
They were, you see, held hostage by the lie that they were already free. Or perhaps they were imprisoned by the lie that freedom was something they had to earn, that they needed to be sinless or faithful or, at the very least, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Pride, denial, desire, and other “lies” kept them from receiving the truth that would make them free and change everything.
I am interested this morning in what I believe to be the truth of the sacrament of Communion, and how it can set us free. On this World Communion Sunday, I want to celebrate the truth of Communion as a visible expression of God’s extravagant, transforming love. I want to praise God for the Communion table as a space where we and all people can actually taste and see the abundant goodness of God, where the food we call the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing can make us whole. And I want to us to go forth in the strength and hope of that spiritual food to create a community of what theologian, songwriter, and author Christopher Grundy calls “resistance, resilience, and risk.”
But before we can fully embrace those truths and gifts, before we can let them make us free, we might need to name and acknowledge the things about Communion that have held us hostage or, at the very least, held us back. We may not be ready to call them lies or even misunderstandings, but it is my hope that a reconsideration of traditional Communion rituals might enable us to move toward something that is closer to the liberating, healing truth at the heart of God and our faith.
A Holy Communion that will make abundantly clear—despite everything our economy tells us and everything we sometimes feel—what the disciples learned at the feeding of the five thousand: That there is more than enough to go around and that we ourselves are enough.
A Holy Communion that will, like the post-resurrection, breakfast-on-the-beach Jesus served his lost-at-sea disciples, help us to experience God as the tender chef who longs to feed us, body and soul; God as the helpful guide who shows us where to catch more life than we ever imagined; God as the friend who sees us and invites us to bring all we have to the feast that is life; God as the source of never-ending life and steadfast, resilient love.
Perhaps this is the joyful truth of Communion you already know. Maybe there is not a single thing that gets between your heart and a joyful experience at Christ’s table of grace. Thanks be to God!
But there are also those of us who have a different, less liberating understanding and experience of Communion. Perhaps that’s because of the theology we’ve been taught—say, that Jesus died for our sins or that his broken body and shed blood were necessary for our deliverance. Or maybe our discomfort has to do with the Communion rituals’ apparent endorsement of violence and how that can trigger uncomfortable feelings about the grave injustices we have suffered or the traumatic wrongs that have been done to us.
What I’m trying to say—and I am still learning about this—is that while some of us may understand our discomfort with Communion and others of us may have no problems at all with our traditional Communion rituals, many, if not most of us, may not realize the extent to which our beloved rituals desensitize us to all manner of violence, torture, and objectification in our lives and in our culture.
Even if we consciously reject the notion that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we may unconsciously believe that we have benefited from Jesus’s broken body and spilled blood. Even if we love Jesus and are committed to following his ways, our Communion rituals may objectify him. And even if we manage to separate Communion from a glorification of Jesus’s execution, we run the risk of either denying the reality of evil’s power or minimizing it by focusing on resurrection’s triumph over it.
These are some hard truths that may yet make us free—free to acknowledge the all-too-real injustices and suffering of our world, free to become the beloved community of God that resists unjust power, violence, and dehumanizing systems and policies, free to become a community of resilience that always, by God’s grace, finds purpose and joy in sharing what we’ve been given.
To live more fully into the freedom of Communion, Christopher Grundy suggests that we will have to do much more than remove certain words and concepts from our liturgies. We will need to do more than invite anyone and everyone to participate in already-set rituals.
I understand that may sound unreasonable. I understand that may seem daunting. In a world seemingly coming apart and a church trying to do so much, I understand our willingness to settle for “good enough.”
But I am tired of being held hostage to the lie that we can’t do anything about violence. I am tired of being held hostage by the lie that our sacred rituals need not concern themselves with what horrors are being done to God’s children—sometimes in God’s name.
More than that, I believe I have seen the kind of liberating, community-building meal that Communion could become. I have seen it at Not Bread Alone. I saw it in the monthly sanctuary potlucks we hosted when Lucio was with us. I have seen it, too, here in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings and in the Chapel on Maundy Thursday.
So let us continue the conversation. Let us commit ourselves to a Communion truth that will make us—and all people and all creation—whole, strong, united in love, and free.