The Costs of Communion

One of the Fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, ‘What is a monk?’ He said, ‘He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.’

Then Jesus said to all, “If any would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24; compare Matthew 16:24-28 and Mark 8:34-9:1)

“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39; compare Luke 14:26-27)

I must draw your attention to two things. First, the comments by BSnyder at the end of this thread are very much worth reading. BSnyder taps into something important and muchly overlooked it seems to me. Receiving the Eucharist isn’t just about whether or not a visitor’s feelings get hurt which seems to be one of the major lenses for this conversation; rather it’s about binding yourself to the life of God which may have dramatic and even negative consequences for your health and well-being. Of the first thirteen who partook of the first Lord’s Supper in that Jerusalem upper room, tradition informs us that only one died of old age. The others, without exception, suffered a violent death for their expression of faith.

There are consequences to this faith.

Second, Christopher has written a very engaging post on this topic which again addresses the broader implications and, like BSnyder’s comments, connects reception of the sacrament to the realities of our existence and our spiritual travails:

Can CWOB at its best be practice of assurance in the same way as Baptism done? What does it mean to nibble at the edges and never take the plunge? Or to eat frequently and be drawn into a leap of trust? Can I fall back on Communion in the same way I can always fall back on Baptism when the Tempter whispers lies that I am other than God’s in Christ? To my mind, CWOB precisely because of the nature of Holy Communion to be ongoing may imply rather the very thing the likes of Maurice and Ramsey after found troubling in certain positions on Baptism, that somehow we can fall out of God’s irrevocable adoption. The singular nature of Baptism, on the other hand. In darkest night, I do not cry out, “I am communed.” I rebuke, “I am baptized.”

God’s give-away of grace, I trust will not be spurned by those who receive Communion and never come back. I need not protect God’s grace, but I do need to take care that others understand that grace and its power and implications for their lives. God’s works through God’s means. While CWOB implies a high Presence of Christ in Communion, does it properly warn of God’s wrestling grace?

Read and ponder as you consider CWOB and what it means for us.

10 Replies to “The Costs of Communion”

  1. I really like Christopher’s “I am baptized!” thought. (Where does that come from again?)

    I think somehow this “once-for-all” idea is another key to this discussion….

  2. (You know, I really do think that at least part of the reason for”baptism before Communion” might originally have been ethical – for just the reasons you give here.

    I’m really strong, myself, on “knowing what I’m getting into” – at least, as much as is possible. I don’t like mystification of thing that actually need to be explained openly and fully; it’s simply wrong to skip the introductory content, I think.

    People need to know that the life is not meant to be warm and fuzzy – that there are indeed, and have been from the beginning, possibly serious consequences.)

  3. Thanks, Christopher – but where in Luther? Unfortunately, I really don’t know very much formal theology, so I never know where these things come from….

  4. I have written in another forum that receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood before Baptism into his Body is made appealing and seems to have much to commend it because of the increasing lack of formality and the accompanying lack of boundaries in this and much of western society. While not widely distributed, the picture of Mrs. Obama putting her arm around the Queen Elizabeth II is ample proof that boundaries are artificially and all too easily removed. We have lost an appreciation for the healthy protection boundaries afford. Increasingly, superficial friendliness is mistaken for intimacy and good intentions for deliberate and thoughtful reasoning. Encouraging all people to receive Holy Communion regardless of their baptismal status seems to me to be the logical outgrowth of this behavior. It is also a result of modelling the Eucharist almost exclusively on a family meal model and ignoring it as a potent manifestation and foretaste of the Kingdom and a participation in the life to come. (Who wouldn’t invite someone to participate in a family meal?) There is simply too much at stake for the individual soul and the church too permit this to continue – although no one should have discussions at the altar rail about who should be receiving the Sacrament. Perhaps this discussion will lead us to a newer appreciation of an understanding of the Holy Eucharist that we have largely ignored.

  5. Thanks for commenting, Fr. Kelley.

    I think you’re right and, especially since Vatican II, we have our architecture to blame for part of our theological problem; the altar as a visual reminder of the multivalence of the Eucharist has been narrowed to that of the meal table. When we lose the aspects of altar as both locus of sacrifice and tomb, the meal imagery does overwhelm the other aspects that needed to be balanced with the meal concept.

    I wonder if the boundaries and the lack thereof are partly a function of the digitization of our world…

  6. I have noticed that there is a (to my way of thinking) silly argument about “post-modern” culture. That I find most “post-modernism” more modern that post, I think it’s a part of the continuing idea that sloppy thought and warm feelings are more “authentic” than any other reason.

  7. You mention the idea of offering communion to all for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings. Hmmm… I don’t really see this idea applied consistently. I am not a Mormon. I do not have the right to enter their temples. I don’t get to go into one and get married for “time and eternity.” I don’t get to go in and baptize my great-great-grapndpa. Not that I would really want to, of course; those rites are meaningless to me. But what if I wanted to? What if my feelings got hurt because they wouldn’t let me? The CWOB (and similar such thinking) folk I have heard from would, I am willing to guarantee, say that it is my problem, not the Mormons.

    In fact, something similar arose in a conversation concerning the secret practices (pardon, I don’t know the proper terminology) of the guild of young men in some African tribe. A person who pumped for “Communion should be open to all” was horrified by the thought of westerners (American Christian medical missionaries) wanting to watch, let alone participate. The horror was not that Christians might want to have their son “come of age” along with the local natives, but that they would think they had any right to intrude on the native ceremonies.

    Their ceremonies are sacred to them and are of no concern to anybody else; ours should be open to all and all should want to participate. I find that paternalistic and patronizing.

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