Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Food: A Tasteful Theology (part 2)

Last week at our church we took communion. Now, that might not seem noteworthy, but I'm not sure when our church last took communion. Maybe years ago. Maybe never. I really don't know. You see, in Quakerdom (Friends) we don't often practice communion with the elements (bread and juice or wine). In fact, one of our young people recently visited another church and she reported to her mother, "they gave us some really strange food."

George Fox our illustrious/notorious leader believed in one's ability to connect with God directly and he believed taking physical elements might undermine that understanding. If the sacraments themselves brought us to God and if the church had the authority to give or refuse those sacraments, then we could only access God through the church. Fox rejected that notion and he resented the churches abuses in power.

What about now? If Fox was alive in the 21st century, would he still be resisting the practice of communion?

In the early church, Christians believed that church worship happened when they shared the Lord's Supper together. One of the reasons this practice became important was in order to fight a Gnostic heresy that said that Jesus wasn't actually a human being (Gnostics believed that the physical world was illusory and evil, so they couldn't expect God becoming physical). When the early church took communion they celebrated Christ's solidarity with humanity. Furthermore, they celebrated solidarity with one another. Rich and poor, slave and free, men and women all eating together communicated a powerful message of equality and fellowship. That's why Paul was so upset when this beautiful, unique practice became twisted.

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! 

Paul is addressing an issue that arose in this small church of  maybe 50 people. The wealthy were having their own little private, extravagant dinners and they weren't sharing. The poor looked on with empty stomachs and envious palates.

After our worship gathering we ate a feast together, a sort of church family Thanksgiving. And as we sat around tables around from one another, people of different generations and political affiliation, I wondered, where else does this happen? Where else do people so different from one another sit with each other in fellowship and solidarity and worship? When it is done in unity it is beautiful and unique. But when there are divisions among us Paul would ask us, do you so despise the church? He might even tell us that our meetings do more harm than good. Ouch! Are there ways that people in your church have there own private suppers? Or maybe our churches themselves have become private suppers. God's hungry children are looking while we become stuffed and drunk consuming church programs and "religious goods and services."

What are we consuming? What are we feasting on? Sometimes I wonder how much of our conflicts and divisions would be minimized if we took a step back at our world - the hungry and thirsty and desperate and abused and oppressed and outcast. These are the people who Jesus ate with. These are the people Jesus noticed. This video captures these thought in visual form much better:

I hope our communion service were able to challenge us to greater unity. I hope we were able to really examine ourselves and to ask the difficult questions. Here are two of the queries we reflected on last Sunday.

  •What eating habits do you practice to be holy like Jesus?
  •What practices do you hold that help you keep the unity? Do they take creativity or courage?

1 comment:

  1. I very much appreciated the communion. I understand Fox's point of view on it but for me it was always a deeply spiritual, wonderful ritual that had a lot of meaning and I have missed it since coming into the Friends church.