Alan Creech posts a few thoughts on the Eucharist, which sets me to thinking again. Back to ‘theology pub’ the other evening, where we discussed communion. “Context is important,” I said, based on the article we discussed and upon my own reflection. Originally it was set in the context of a meal, which is important, because it has to do with community, about communing with one another as well as with God. The context is in community.
One thing that came through clearly is that it’s meant to be a meal, not merely a thimble of grape juice and a thumbnail-sized cracker or breadcrumb. The bland tasteless wafer just really doesn’t pass muster. In the Anglican congregation where I’ve been hanging out and with whom I attended the theology pub night, the table is taken in a circle, from a common cup. Standing in the circle, you are given a piece of bread that’s probably, at minimum, four times the size of the normal crumb. It’s enough to chew, enough to taste. Similarly, it seems that in one service, the approximately 70 people on a given Sunday evening will use as much wine as a much larger Anglican congregation does in four weeks. I don’t have an Anglican background at all, so I really don’t know what’s normal… but at St. Ben’s, the vast majority of people are “sippers,” not “dippers.” I gather that in most congregations, only enough wine to touch and wet the lips is generally consumed by each individual… if you call that “consumed.”
Without being prompted, it seems at St. Ben’s, it’s common to take a sip of wine… not a gulp but enough of a sip to taste it. And this is a good thing… communion should be tasted, so you know you’re there, you know you’re experiencing it. You know it’s the bread of life, because you taste it, you can chew it, and swallow. You take it into yourself. You know you’ve drunk from the cup of redemption, because you taste it, it crosses the palatte, and you swallow it. You take it into yourself. Each week in the liturgy at St. Ben’s, one hears the phrase from fifth century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo: “Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” How does one know it’s received if it isn’t tasted, if there’s not enough substance to swallow it, to know you’ve received it?
Something else that came up in our discussion… the fact that many present recalled traditions where they were urged to examine themselves to be sure they were not taking communion in an unworth manner, or taking it “unawares.” Although many remember being quite concerned or even scared to take communion, It was determined in our smaller group conversation later that this was a definite misapplication of the text. It leads to a thorough and very quick repentance lest one be struck dead… but is that valid? It ought not be so that one must take pains to make ones self “worthy” to approach the table. Jesus wants us to come to the table without fear. After all, who is it for, if not for sinners?