[Forward: Please Read First – Since this post was originally published I’ve received a lot of flack for unintentionally disrespecting the Catholic Church. So I want to share a dialogue I had with a facebook friend, JoAnn:
JoAnn: “I was raised Catholic. I am surprised they let you receive communion. I went to a Catholic funeral recently where they were very adamant that is was ONLY for Catholic (in their church of course).”
Derek: “Ya, the priest did not make it clear that it was just for Catholics. He simply said, “part of our faith”. I took that as an ecumenical invitation. I’m beginning to think I should not have though. Live and learn.”
JoAnn: “well fortunately PROTESTANT is not written on our foreheads”]
During the Exodus celebration (also known as Passover) Jesus gathered together with his closest friends and initiated what has variously come to be termed “The Lord’s Supper”, “The Eucharist” or simply “Communion”. That last term is my favorite because it captures the essence of Paul’s complaint in 1 Corinthians 11:
“In the following directives I have no praise for you… In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you… When you come together it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.” 1 Corinthians 11:17-20
The context lays clear the issue Paul has in mind: division in the body of Christ.
The believers where first of all not united, but secondly, they would not wait for one another. The body of Christ wasn’t much functioning like a body. Paul goes so far to say, “it is not the Lord’s supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else“. In other words, call it Eucharist, call it the Lord’s Supper, call it Communion, but if you eat in division, it’s not really the Lord’s Supper.
Being Protestant, I always raised more than a few eyebrows at the Catholic Church. First, we were Christians, they were merely Catholics in need of salvation. If ever I attended a Catholic service during which the Eucharist was offered, I made my protest clear: I refused to go up and partake. Not only were they not real Christians (in my opinion), and not only were their rituals eerily cultic to my understanding, but they believed something too weird for me to accept: “Transubstantiation”, the belief that the bread and wine literally transform into the body and blood of Christ. Yuck!
Today we buried my grandmother.
The service was held in a Catholic Church.
The Eucharist was offered.
It was the first time in my life I recall ever taking Communion with my Catholic brother’s and sisters. Admittedly it felt strange to do so.
The priest gave us three options: we could come up and receive the bread (I don’t understand why only the bread is offered); we could come up and receive a blessing; or we could remain in our seats.
I nudged my wife, but she didn’t want to go. I looked around, my brother and his wife sitting somewhere to my left. My sister and her husband sitting somewhere across the aisle to my right. No movement from them. No judgment from me. I could just as easily remained in my seat. But after a moment of hesitancy I jerked up and got into line.
When I stood before the priest, hands cupped in front of my chest ready to receive, there was a moment of hesitancy on his part and a look of perplexion on his face. I began to worry that I missed a step. Was I supposed to say something like “Father, I receive this wafer” or something like that? Was I supposed to genuflex or cross myself? Has the cat been let out of the bag, that I’m Protestant[!]?
Finally he placed the wafer in my hand. I thanked him and put it in my mouth as I returned to my seat passing my brother who was watching me with a big smile on his face. I didn’t mean for it to be a joke. I hope no one took it as me mocking the Catholic Church.
Later I was talking to my wife about the whole incident. She explained to me that the reason she didn’t go up was because she didn’t know what to do or what rituals were involved. Recalling my awkward moment, I’d say for someone less forward then I, that reason is perfectly understandable.
So what changed? Why did I – an uncultured, low church Protestant – partake in the Eucharist at a Catholic Church?
It goes back to the passage in 1 Corinthians and every other passage in the New Testament were the Lord’s Supper is discussed. The Church is the body of Christ. One Church. One Body. Orthodox may disagree. Catholics may disagree. Protestants may disagree. They can disagree all they want. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one as he and the Father are one.
That is my prayer too.
Of course the various traditions have understood what exactly takes place during the Lord’s Supper different. There is the Catholic view of Transubstantiation, the Lutheran view of Consubstantiation, Calvin’s view of ascension, Zwingli’s view of symbolism, and even Pentecostalism has it’s own take on it (incorporating a physical healing dimension). But the scriptures are just not that clear on the matter and so we should not allow our various understandings of Communion prevent us from communing together.
To do so is an affront to Christ’ body and a sin for which Paul says, “I have no praise for you” (1 Corinthians 11:17). Where Paul once exhorted against the divisions of the early church: “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are one in Christ”, he might very well instruct us today, “there are neither Eastern Orthodox nor Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but all are one in Christ”.
Communion is about the body of Christ celebrating the work of Christ on the cross together, until He returns. The way I see it. In the eschaton all of the disciples will be gathered together with our Lord physically present, and we will partake in the Lord’s Supper together.
I figure, why not start now.