All are welcome at Christ’s table – unless you’re gluten-free.
Add them to the growing list of people who are not welcome at the table. As of June 15th, the Pope announced that all bread at the communion table must be made with at least some element of gluten. According to the “rules” the bread must be “unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made.” No mercy or grace for those with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. I guess you’re just supposed to just trust in Christ even if you have an allergic reaction that could cause you to die. I can’t help but think that if someone with Celiac disease went up to receive communion and died as a result God would ask, “Why are you here?”
Add people with a gluten allergy to the ever-growing list of those unwelcome at Christ’s table.
The Catholic Church has a list of people who can’t come forward for communion. Not an actual list of names, but of deeds deemed to be unworthy. If you ever been divorced, had an abortion or participated in one, had sex outside of marriage or even deliberately had impure thoughts, you can’t come forward. If you haven’t fasted for at least one hour prior to receiving communion you can’t come forward. If you haven’t gone to confession since your last grave sin, and there’s a list you need to memorize, you can’t come forward. If you aren’t Catholic, you can’t come forward. If you are Catholic but don’t believe that the wafer and the wine ACTUALLY turn into the literal body and blood of Christ, you can’t come forward. There are literally billions of people not welcome at Christ’s table in the Catholic Church. And that makes me sad.
I always assumed we were all brothers and sisters in Christ. But I was wrong.
The first time I found out about “the rules” was when one of my friends was getting married. He asked me to be best man at his wedding and as part of the ceremony each of us – the groom, the bride, the maid of honor, and myself – were all to receive communion. The priest asked me if I was Catholic and I innocently told him I wasn’t. He smiled and just said, “That’s okay, we just won’t tell anyone.” I was grateful for the grace, but had to ask why that was even a question and that’s when I found out – Catholics only at the table. Sounds pretty exclusionary for a faith that claims to be for everyone. I read a Catholic blog that says the rules are there for MY well-being. Someone who comes to the table without the proper requirements is putting themselves in “spiritual danger!” I guess billions of people every Sunday are putting their lives and souls at risk then.
And before we pile on the Catholics, let us not forget we are all in love with “the rules.”
If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please go to John 6:53-58. John 6:53-58. They may not be as formal as those in the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t make our rules any less real. The words we say, the elements we bless, the way we do communion are all traditions that build up over time and we begin worshipping the WAY WE DO THINGS instead of God. People freak out when there is one slight misstep as if a mistake will bring about God’s wrath! Hasn’t our understanding of God evolved at all? Do we still think God is as petty as the rest of us? If we still think that God will raise up a hurricane to strike down sinners, then we are all long overdue for a second flooding of the Earth. I want you to remember the Pharisees. They followed all the rules. They even added some of their own just to make sure everyone towed the line. And they were quick to judge anyone who didn’t follow them. But when Jesus came he purposefully pointed them out and condemned them for their strict adherence to the rules without regard for the spirit behind them. And I think that’s what happens to us in worship and in particular communion. We praise the form and functions of worship instead of the one we came to praise in the first place. And part of that comes from this short passage in the Bible we’re going to read from this morning.
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The flesh and blood of Christ.
Personally, I don’t want to eat the literal flesh and blood of Christ. But the Catholic Church takes this seriously. This is another in their list of requirements for communion. You must believe that the elements magically transform into the literal body and blood of Christ or you should not be taking communion, because if you don’t believe in it, you are not in the right frame of mind to receive it. This is what is called transubstantiation and it comes from this passage and others like it. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…” and they believe he meant that literally instead of figuratively. I know there’s been some kid who has reached into his mouth to see if that wafer turned into flesh hoping to see a miracle right before his very eyes, but no reports of literal flesh coming out of people’s mouths has been confirmed. I wonder why. Jesus often talked in hyperbole. Jesus did not literally mean that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 19:24). He did not that when you give to the needy you shouldn’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt 6:3). And he did not literally mean that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that turned into a tree (Luke 13:19). So why is it that some people take this passage so literally? When Jesus declared himself the Bread of Life, no one thought he was made out of wheat. As one writer put it, “He was simply comparing himself to food in general, the most common staple of the diet. Just as bread is the basis of physical life, Jesus is the basis of eternal life.” I think most of us inherently understand that interpretation. Here Jesus is trying to make us understand that the things of this world are temporary. They are fleeting. But if we nourish ourselves on the life of Christ – his teachings, his example, and his sacrifice – then we are feeding our eternal soul which is much more valuable to us and to God. He didn’t literally mean we should eat and drink him.
By the way, did you now that the word “communion” isn’t in the Bible?
The King James Bible used the word to translate a portion of 1 Corinthians 10:16, but it means “sharing” or “participation” which is at the essence of what communion is. We sometimes refer to it as the Eucharist, but this too is a translation of the Greek word eucharisteo in 1 Corinthians 11:24 meaning to “give thanks” something that is also important as part of what we do in communion. And Jesus wasn’t specific about the times or places or details of communion. He didn’t say anything except to share one last meal and one last drink with those closest to him. In fact, of the four Gospels, only Luke uses the phrase “Do this in remembrance of me.” Mark, Matthew, and John don’t mention it at all. It’s amazing how we build up all of these requirements around communion but conveniently ignore the ones we don’t care about. Nowhere does it say we have to eat bread, let alone bread containing gluten, but the Catholic Church says it’s not communion without it. But I find it ironic that many churches use individual wafers instead of one loaf even though Jesus actually did do that. Likewise, nowhere does it say we have to use wine and yet many churches insist on it because that’s what Jesus did. Jesus also drank from one cup, which he passed around, but many of those same churches use individual cups. Some churches don’t let children come forward for communion, but Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matt 19:14).” There are inconsistencies in how we construct communion throughout our history of worship but we dwell only on some and completely ignore others.
What we need to do is be open to different ways of interpreting communion.
“Different” doesn’t mean “wrong.” It just means “different.” As long as we keep to the roots of the meaning behind communion, it doesn’t really matter what kind of meal we share or drink we have together. It doesn’t matter if we use individual cups or one cup. When Paul was being critical of those who came to communion in an “unworthy” manner, he wasn’t criticizing the use of bread and wine. He was criticizing those who were using communion as an excuse for gluttony and revelry. He wanted them to approach communion with respect and gratitude instead of being drunk and bawdy. It had nothing to do with how they did communion but the way they approached it. My hope is that in our effort to reach people for Christ, we are open to interpret everything with fresh eyes including our most sacred traditions like communion. Not to upset the apple cart, but to try things that might help others understand Christ in new and different ways. I hope we will constantly be introspective about our own ideas of “right” and “wrong” and be open to the Spirit and the heart of what we are doing.
Communion is important.
It is an opportunity for the people of God to gather together in worship and to lift up thanks for God’s work in us and in the world. Communion is important as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and to help keep us humble when we are tempted to think more of ourselves and less of others. But there is something special and sacred about communion that is more than just a shared meal. As John Wesley himself once said, “I haste to this Sacrament for the same purpose that St. Peter and John hasted to His sepulchre; because I hope to find Him there. I come then to God’s altar, with a full persuasion that these words, This is My body, promise me more than a figure; that this holy banquet is not a bare memorial only […] in what manner this is done I know not; it is enough for me to admire. And thus His body and blood have everywhere, but especially at this Sacrament, a true and real presence.” Those are very important words for us as we understand communion. More than any other ritual, ceremony, or liturgy we perform, this one for us brings forth the “real presence” of Christ. It is, as John said, a mystery. One we do not fully comprehend but we experience by faith. Let us come to the table then, with gratitude in our heart, praise for the love of Christ, the memory of his great sacrifice for us on the cross, and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.