Marc Brown: For Puritans, worshiping around the Lord’s table was of crucial importance to communal and individual piety. Through which lens did the Puritans view this fundamental worship practice; Lord’s Supper, eucharist, or communion? Perhaps a case could be made that Puritan worship employed all three of these views in some form or fashion. However, through […]
KB Categories Archives: Eucharist
Video Content: At June, 2016’s annual AFFN Convocation, Network member Dr. Christopher Montgomery presented a thought provoking paper on sacramentality and the Kingdom titled “Sacramentality: A Political Hermeneutic.”
Through a close reading of Mark 6;14-44 Christopher argued that the sacraments are gifts given to the Church to help us understand the way God relates to the world He has created and that the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, hold implications for the meaning we assign to ourselves as the Church and to our mission in the world around us.
Christopher has held pastoral positions in worship and the arts in evangelical and Anabaptist congregations, and now is pastor of Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Everything we value we view with purpose and intentionality. Normally-occurring changes happen in everyone’s lives. These changes often challenge our habits and the things we treasure. Depending on how clearly we understand the meaning of the values we place on people, things and habits, these will either survive the changes or be left behind to make way for the new. There was a time in my life that I was sick and tired of being heavy…chubby…fat. I had battled poor fitness my whole life. Now, as the sun was about to set on my 20’s, I embarked on a fitness and diet routine that helped me to become stronger and slimmer than I had ever been. This new reality was made possible by routines of regular and frequent exercise along with habitual and constant positive eating habits. My daily and weekly schedule reflected my values with purpose and intentionality. Three years later we moved. Along with a new job came new responsibilities, new priorities and new stresses. My new schedule seemed to leave no time for exercise, especially habitual exercise. There was also the strong compulsion to salve my stresses through comfort eating. What happened to my habits? My values changed. Taking care of my new responsibilities meant more to me than taking care of my body.
My story makes the point that the value we place on something is based on its meaning. We will craft our daily and weekly schedule to accommodate the things we treasure. However, when change comes into our lives, we will be tempted to surrender the things value, trading them for something that seems more necessary– more meaningful.
Something all Christians agree on as being meaningful is the Lord’s Supper. Mark’s Gospel account of the Lord’s Supper tells us:
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This I my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, he said to them.” -Mark 14:23-24
Jesus was eating the Passover meal with his disciples. While sharing this holy observance, he gave it a new meaning and told us to eat and drink. My purpose is not to promote one of the many interpretations different Christian traditions have ascribed to the Lord’s Supper. Instead, I am making the point that whatever way a church understands the meaning of the Lord’s Supper should lead them to intentionality and purpose with regard to the timing and frequency of the Lord’s Supper.
In my Southern Baptist tradition, there is a great variety in the frequency the observance of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, a 2012 random survey of Southern Baptist pastors conducted by LifeWay Research showed that fifty-seven percent of the pastor’s churches observed the Lord’s Supper once a quarter, eighteen percent monthly and only one percent weekly. Even though it is possible that these churches all came to a conclusion regarding the meaning of and frequency for observing the Lord’s Supper, it is also possible that their practices “developed over the course of history and have been perpetuated with little reflection or rationale” (40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Hammett, John S., 289). Many Baptists might point to an agreed meaning of the Lord’s Supper as being done at Christ’s command and “in remembrance.” Rather than being a means of making a regular deposit into one’s salvation, the Baptist (Zwinglian) view of remembrance may not seem to demand as much frequency. As Keith Mathison stated, “nature determines frequency” (Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Mathison, Keith., 293). An alternate perspective is proposed by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor John Hammett: “If the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is solely for us to remember Christ’s sacrifice, perhaps a quarterly observance would be sufficient, through it could also be asked if we can be reminded of the cross too often. But if the Lord’s Supper is given to us as a ‘means of grace,’ by which believing hearts experience communion with Christ, are nourished spiritually, are encouraged by anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb, and are renewed in unity and love by partaking ‘of the one loaf’ (1 Corinthians 10:17) and recognizing the corporate body of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:29), then such a gift would naturally be something we would desire more frequently.” (40 Question, 292-293)
Is any church healthier because it observes the Lord’s Supper less often? Has the frequency of the observance of the Lord’s Supper fallen prey to new things we have decided are more valuable? Are our deeply held traditions concerning the periodicity of the Lord’s Supper being kept for the sake of history rather than their meaning? I believe these questions should be prayerfully answered as we strive to be part of His kingdom coming and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
While the approach of tailoring the words of ministration for each communicant, one who is receiving communion, can make the moment more personal, it can potentially make the moment awkward for both minister and communicant. Suppose you, as the minister, know the first person in line very well and have a grandiose statement for them, but you don’t know the next person in line at all and they overhear your grandiose statement and feel disappointed when they receive a less than grandiose statement when you offer them the elements. I propose that Pentecostal, evangelical, and charismatic parishes should follow our High Church brethren in the use of concise phrases at the ministration of the Eucharist.
These few words, these simple phrases, are containers of great grace. The words for the ministration of communion are encapsulations, small containers with great potential, of the Gospel. When a communicant comes to receive the elements of the Eucharist they are responding to God’s grace and are coming to the Table to encounter the living Christ. At that moment it is not the job of the Eucharistic minister, whether lay or ordained, to preach or be overly demonstrative– the “job” of ministry in that moment is facilitated by the one sent by Christ, the Holy Spirit. The Body of Christ has answered the call to gather and worship the Triune God; the word of God has been declared through song and Scripture, the homily/sermon has been given, and the Creed has been professed. The reception of the elements of the Eucharist is the time to open our hearts and minds and to listen as we receive Christ in the Eucharist. This reception is a gift from Christ himself who is the great high priest of our confession.
When we, as ministers of the Eucharist, offer the elements to the other members of the Body of Christ we give the elements with simple words, believing that the Holy Spirit will open the encapsulated Gospel to the communicants, just as the breaking of the bread opened the eyes of the two disciples who journeyed with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). When the host, or communion wafer, is placed in the hands of a communicant with the words, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” it is Christ, the Host of the meal, who nourishes with his words, because he is the Incarnate Word of God. When the chalice, the cup, is offered to the communicant with the words, “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” it is the shed blood of the Lamb of God that takes away their sins, affirming the covenant between them and God, and testifies to the life they live in Christ. By functioning in the few words we can more readily observe, and come into agreement with, the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Eucharist to the communicant. Let us consider Ecclesiastes 5 during the ministration of the elements:
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they do not know how to keep from doing evil. Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few” (Eccl 5:1-2, NRSV).
In conclusion, as we approach the Table of the Lord, whether as a communicant or a minister of the elements, let us do so with these three things in mind:
- Joy, in that Christ will meet us in the Eucharist because he promised to be where people would gather together in his name (Matt 18:20).
- Humility, in that it is God who does the work in spite of our shortcomings (1 Pet 5:6-7).
- Confidence, in that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Heb 4:16, NRSV).
Ministering through the few words “fits the occasion,” gives room for the Holy Spirit to move and minister as he sees fit, and will “give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29, ESV).
20 August 2015
The Feast of Bernard of Clairvaux
 Church Publishing, The Book of Common Prayer (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 365.
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Although significant positive ecumenical changes have occurred over the past one hundred and fifteen years, and most especially since the Second Vatican Council (1960’s) and Pope John Paul II’s landmark Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1990’s), considerable progress has yet to be made. The body of Jesus Christ continues to be divided, and our shared evangelistic task continues to be compromised. More working, worshiping, and weeping are desperately needed.
We may indeed lament over our separated state, and properly so, but what can be done in the meantime? What can we do to mend fences and build bridges? How can we more faithfully come to the Table of Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice when, at times in practice and for a variety of reasons, we are not functionally faithful to our Lord’s and Saint Paul’s admonition to reconciliation BEFORE participation?
One of the advantages of increased ecumenical cross-fertilization, as Roman Catholics and Protestants begin to more fully share a common language and a measured common life, is the pronounced interest in monasticism both as a vocational occupation and as shared means of discipleship among those who may not be called to live within the “enclosure.” That is, in other words, there is increased interest in (and provision for!) those who are called to become “friends” or “oblates” of the monastery who may not be Roman Catholic– and may, in fact, entirely reject certain Roman Catholic perspectives.
When people visit the monastery where I am an Oblate they are greeted by the monks and brothers, a number of whom are friends, with utmost charity. The monks and the brothers seek to demonstrate their commitment to the Bible, the Rule, and the spirit of Saint Benedict by being as warm and welcoming as possible. We are welcomed, frequently, as Christ himself. This is in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of Benedict’s Rule of life.
Often, after arriving, I pillage the monastic bookstore, receive spiritual direction, take a walk, and pray. As an Oblate who takes “the work of God” (Liturgical Prayer at set times) and monastic discipleship seriously, participation in the Service of Worship is central to a visit to my monastery. Attending the corporate Worship is, for most visitors, attending to our most urgent needs as homo-liturgical beings. Public worship and personal-worth are in some ways connected.
However, as an Benedictine Oblate who is ordained in a separated Ecclesial Community, I (and a great many other people) am not allowed to participate in the Communion Sacrament. I am, according to Roman Catholic teaching, canonically restricted from partaking of the Real Presence of Christ who is our common Lord. I grieve. I struggle. My wife weeps. I think there are many Evangelical Christians who find themselves in the same predicament. Having a pronounced interest in monasticism and its disciplines, we attend some monastic Roman Catholic services but find ourselves blocked at the very center of our shared faith: Holy Communion. As such, for many, celebration becomes lamentation.
For some years now I have been thinking about this most poignant and painful problem. I want to share in this Bread and Wine, this Body and Blood, but cannot do so. It is, indeed, a problem. How might we all, not just me and my wife, more fully participate in this Sacrament while remaining respectful of these monks whom we have come to love and count as members of our very own spiritual family? In short, how do we partake of this most precious Body and Blood without ever taking the consecrated Bread and Wine upon our tongues?
Apart for the self-sacrificing love that we have for our brothers, they key is in our RADICAL AND INTENTIONAL IDENTIFICATION WITH JESUS CHRIST. Holy Scripture tells us that our Lord was crucified outside the walls (Heb 13:12). As one who hung upon the tree, our Lord was considered accursed (Deut 21:22-23 and Gal 3:13). As the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world,” taking our sin entirely upon himself, he was driven into the wilderness where, after many trials and temptations, only angels were his ministers (Rev 13:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:11). And it was precisely this separation which God consecrated, accepted, sanctified, and glorified (Isa 53:10, KJV).
When non-Catholic Oblates and Friends attend “Mass,” but cannot physically partake of the Sacrament as those who with Christ are “outside of the walls,” we must do so intentionally– fully recognizing that our radical identification with Christ by non-participation is taken, consecrated, and blessed by God. In other words, humble yet hopeful non-participation empowers us to fully participate in the Sacrament precisely because we choose to identify with Christ himself in his own suffering of separation.
When after the Consecration of the Bread and Wine we move forward, crossing our arms upon our broken hearts to indicate our non-participation in the physical sacrament, we in fact open our arms to receive the blessing of God upon our sacrificial action. We, by the grace of God, are cruci-formed. Our humble and hopeful “no” to our most earnest desire for physical participation is seen and accepted by God as personal participation that embodies the spirit of Eucharistic devotion. To reference the words of Thomas á Kempis in his first book, he who would perfectly understand the words of Christ must entirely conform himself to the life of Christ. Doing, identification with Christ, provides revelation and release.
Many ecumenical advances have occurred for over a century. More work remains. In the meantime, most especially for those of us who are Oblates or Friends of Catholic monastic Orders, let us share in our Lord’s work by loving others enough to be separated from them. Let us, by our small sacrifice (and theirs), share in our Lord’s redemption of his Church.
I CUT MY TEETH
I cut my teeth on Your Flesh
“Chew,” You said, “Chew.”
It was tough, and no tenderly melting intinction,
to taste of the velum of Your living life.
To take within and upon myself
this very bread and this very wine,
this Jordan of our shared humanity,
this excruciating genuflection,
this Table so shabbily set
as unsavory courses.
It was and is our wilderness.
And so I took
(or not, as so painfully necessary)
this Bread and this Blood,
crossing my arms upon the scattered scraps
of my own fragmented life,
Offering all to You
for all of Your gestures,
Raphael’s “La Disputa” is displayed on one of the frescoed walls of the Signature Room in the Vatican. Here the Holy Trinity (the vertical line of the painting) sovereignly supervises and sanctions the process by which the Church receives the graced Eucharistic revelation. Along two horizontal lines, one in heaven and one on earth, angels and saints discuss the nature of this God-given gift.
Of note, along the horizontal earthly line of the fresco, is the clear division between one side of the Altar and Monstrance and the other side. Popes, prelates and people– along with Dante (in the lower right quadrant)– stand on BOTH sides of the discussion. Both attend to the Altar. Both attend to their books. Both have some formal “architecture” of understanding, as illustrated by the divergent structures behind each side of the Altar, to “support” their argument. Both recognize the centrality of Holy Communion– but they are in dispute. Which side is right? To which argument can we affix our name, our signature, our endorsement? Which argument does the Church itself endorse?
Within the Church there are a wide diversity of opinions, and hearty disagreements, about this most holy Sacrament. Some, Roman Catholics in particular, endorse the philosophic concept of Transubstantiation. Lutherans embrace Consubstantiation. Calvin and Zwingli have more spiritualized interpretations. Anglicans and Catholics celebrate the “Real Presence,” but are divided about what, exactly, this means. Evangelicals assert a “remembrance,” but often have little understanding about what it means to re–member an event of such significance. Some Christians, sadly, refuse to participate in this Sacrament altogether because they do not want to add to the divisions in the Church.
Although there are differences, disagreements, and divisions, there is at least one truth to which all Christians subscribe: Participation in Holy Communion is a directive given by God. Jesus instituted the Sacrament, and is identified through this breaking of bread. St. Paul affirmed it, and provided clear expectations for participation in it. The early Church, as articulated in Acts 2:42, was known for its commitment to the Table. “DO THIS” is an expectation of God to be taken with the utmost of seriousness.
Raphael’s “La Disputa” presents both a heavenly and earthly perspective on this most important Sacrament. As both earthly (Bread & Wine) and divine (Body & Blood), Eucharist is complicated. There will be, therefore, differences on many levels. But there is one thing we must not differ upon; there is one thing that is not too complicated. Jesus tells us to “DO THIS” and St. Paul tells us that we must evaluate ourselves and our relationships when we do. Will we DO IT or DISPUTE IT?
Image above: “The Disputation of the Sacrament,” or “La Disputa.” Raphael, c. 1510. Stanze di Raffaello, Apostolic Palace, Vatican.
Ut Unum Sint
I was refused communion, even though I was known, because I did not belong to their group.
I was refused communion, for the same reason, in an entirely different denomination.
I was held in suspicion, in third denomination, because I was far too flexible.
I was held in suspicion, in a forth denomination, because I was not flexible enough.
I was refused a pastoral posting that I had essentially clinched when I would not be Republican.
I was refused another pastoral posting because, I am sure, I did not say “Prayer Book” like them.
I was called demonic by one militant Christian because I challenged “non-essential” doctrine.
I was called a heretic in the exact opposite denomination when I expressed a bit of breadth.
Recently, by a pastoral friend, I was accused of being too Catholic. This is quite odd because some Catholics I know have told me I am too Protestant. In some churches I am seen as far too “Liberal.” In other settings I am seen as far too “Conservative.” In some churches I am “Conservative” enough, but do not say things EXACTLY as they say them. In other churches I am “Liberal” enough, but do not ENTIRELY hold to their party line. On and on it goes. Is anyone else troubled by these kinds of attitudes and actions? Does anyone else believe that such ideas essentially compromise Christ, the “good news,” and the cause of essential worship and effective evangelism?
What is most disturbing about each of these illustrations is that NONE OF THEM involved biblical essentials, barring, maybe one (which could be seen as an interpretational matter). In each of these illustrations I share a common book (Bible), common creeds (Two or Three), common prayer (Lord’s), common morals (Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount) and, to some degree, common Sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist being primary, with the other five being, possibly, of practical value). These, to me, are more than enough to build bridges and to share, far more fully, a common life.
And yet we don’t share a common life. And yet we DARE participate in Holy Communion while we insist upon the damnable doctrine of “I am of Paul, I am of Apollo” (1 Corinthians 3:4). I recently had a woman dare to insist, not unusually I might add, that SHE was of Peter…and thus Jesus Christ himself! Sadly, on my part, I told her (from Job): “Surely you are the one, and with you wisdom will die.” (I was wrong…and I apologized.)
But let’s think about this for a bit. Let’s examine what is going on. Christians are, together, the body of Christ on this earth. We are the salt and the light. We hold “the keys.” We are ambassadors of Christ’s good news. But what do we do? We anathematize each other, render judgment upon each other, refuse sacramental fellowship, unworthily participate in the Sacrament, and compromise effective proclamation. Shame! Disgrace! Heresy!
What shall we do? The Ecumenical Movement, for good and at times for ill, has been around for well over a hundred and fifteen years. Some progress, small progress, has been made; but not anywhere close to what is necessary. While a number of options are available to us, one of which is a mass and united rebellion against the denominational authorities who subvert the Word and work of God, I will propose a far more strident alternative. We need to assert, and radically apply, the strictures of Scriptures regarding Holy Eucharist. In short, apart from extreme circumstances, NO UNITY, NO COMMUNION! Let’s hear what St. Paul says on this matter.
All of us are familiar with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11. In this chapter Paul clearly and concisely outlines the expectations for The Lord’s Supper. In verses 17 – 32, within the clearly stated context of “divisions,” there are a number of challenges Paul sets before the participants. These are: (1) Be cautious of betrayal, (2) Be aware that it is the Lord’s Supper before it is our Supper, (3) Be alert to our Lord’s command to “do this,” (4) Be discerning, (5) Be aware that this is a covenantal meal, the breaking of which has damning consequences, (6) be insistent upon waiting.
Betrayal is the context which Paul cites for the offering and receiving of communion. His illustration clearly references Judas and his kiss of betrayal. The implication, for the Christian community of Corinth, was simple: Their activities betrayed Christ and betrayed the Sacrament. The implications for us are the same, albeit now posed as a question: Do we feign kissing each other ecumenically but, in practice, betray each other by insisting upon our own way? We TALK about unity. We preach about unity. We pray about unity. But we also gather in our own denominational conclaves to cast anathemas upon each other.
Arrogant exclusion is behind this. One person insists on his way, another on her way. One party says that they are of Paul, while another says of Peter. The most rank are those who insist they are of Jesus. But beneath this, as Paul says, is the eating and drinking to the exclusion of others. How often do we partake while we exclude others– either immediately in our own assemblies, or in our broader denominational conclaves? Paul says “NO!” The Body and Blood are “given” for all the body– not for a part of it. It is our Lord’s Supper. He has issued the invitation to all Christians. To exclude is to eat and drink damnation.
Obedience is insisted upon. “DO THIS” is what Jesus said, and what St. Paul reiterated. But many churches tell others, not of their stripe, who do not pronounce “shibboleth” in the same manner, NOT TO DO THIS. You can come for a “blessing,” if very lucky, but you are told that you cannot do what Jesus says because you do not say it like the particular denomination insists upon. Some, really arrogant groups, insist that they are NOT exclusive but, rather, they are truly “catholic.” Other Christians are truly welcome– as long as other Christians are “catholic” just like they are “catholic.” In other words: Be us and you will be okay! Ut Unum Sint, indeed!
Discernment is called for. We must examine ourselves. We must be assured that we are seeking to build bridges between ourselves and other Christians. We must make sure that we do not come to the “Altar” unconfessed, unforgiven, and unreconciled. This has both local and universal applications. Are we reconciled as a BODY, not just as an “eye,” “ear,” “nose,” “mouth,” or “hand” of a local assembly? Do we invite the Christian– TRULY a Christian– to come and dine at the Lord’s Supper with us? Do we invite them to our pulpits? Do we ask for their input? Or, as I recently experienced, are our sound ideas roundly rejected (even when we cite proper and respected sources) simply because we do not look like or speak like them? Think of this in another context: You are starving. I offer you Bread and Wine for the journey. But, because I use gluten free bread and grape juice, you pass upon the gift and die. Or, again: You come to the Altar of God because you are spiritually hungry, but, because I do not know you, I refuse to feed you. Instead I give the blessing, “be warmed and well fed,” while refusing the covering and food of Christ to you. Makes sense doesn’t it!? ABOMINATION!
Covenant is at stake here, and covenant is not to be taken lightly. Eucharist is not just a ritual, it is a covenant. Supper is not just a rite, it is a covenant. Table is not just a sacrament, it is a covenant. GOD ESTABLISHED THE COVENANT, and NO human person or institution has a right to abrogate it! And yet, as I go from church to church, assembly to assembly, they disregard God’s own covenantal expectations. At this point I would be wise to outline the concept of covenant. However, wanting to assume the reader’s intelligence, I won’t. It should be sufficient to say that GOD takes covenant seriously, and those who do not do so will reap serious consequences.
Waiting may be what is needed; a moratorium on Eucharist asserted and maintained. St. Paul tells us that many people in the Corinthian church became sick because they participated unworthily. Have we ever thought that the sickly state of the Church is due to the unworthy manner in which we have participated in the Sacrament? Let’s not side step the issue! WE ARE NOT RECONCILED, WE DO NOT SEEK PRACTICAL UNITY, WE ASSERT A “PAUL/APPOLOS” ETHIC, WE INSIST THAT OUR WAY IS ALWAYS RIGHT, WE TRAIN OTHERS IN OUR DENOMINATIONAL SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND WE PARTAKE– UNWORTHILY! We must wait. We must weep. We must stop.
This brief article calls upon all Christian pastors– barring the extremities of First Communion, illness, or Last Rites (or the equivalent)– to stop giving Communion. While such an orientation may take time to entirely implement, it is not entirely out of the question. In fact, strictly speaking, it might be biblical.
“Blessed is the person who knows his own weakness, because awareness of this becomes for him the foundation and beginning of all that is good and beautiful.” -St. Isaac of Syria
Monasteries host a number of unusual people and practices. I know because I have been a part of a monastic order or community for over a quarter of a century. Being “unusual” is not necessarily bad. In fact it might even be asserted that in a fallen world, where brokenness is to be expected, the unusual and abnormal might be (from God’s perspective) a sign of sanity.
Just the other day at the monastery with which I am affiliated, as an example, I saw a woman “creeping” to the Altar on her knees. From the back of the church, until she had almost reached the Priest-Monk at the transept, she scraped her way up to receive Holy Communion. Her black-lace veil only accentuated her penitential posture.
We Protestants have almost always found such demonstrations suspect. In fact, within the Reformed English Christian tradition, such practices were openly mocked. “Creeping” to receive the Eucharist suggested religion gone wrong. “Creeping” suggested that we were seeking to make atonement for our own sins, instead of boldly receiving the gift of God provided to us through the substitutionary death and justifying resurrection of Jesus Christ. Such a penitential posture suggested that we must “earn” grace, not be humble recipients of grace.
But this perspective may not be entirely accurate. In fact, penance is an essential part of repentance. Consider an illustration. I steal ten dollars from you. After spending this money, I am convicted by God. I feel sorrow and remorse. I want to be right with God again. Consequently I repent and commit myself never to steal again. Does God accept my remorse and repentance? Of course He does! God is good and gracious. Nevertheless, while God freely forgives me, you are still missing the ten dollars I stole from you. My sin continues to impact your pocketbook. My sin, even if you do not know I stole the money, has separated me from you. This must be repaired. Scripture is quite clear about this. Penance, the active and social aspect of repentance, must take place. I must engage in the penance of reparation if my repentance is to be full and complete. (I must add, however, that HOW one makes reparation requires wisdom and caution.)
Evangelicals make much, as we should, of “keeping short accounts with God.” Most of us, every day I hope, examine our consciences and confess our sins and shortcomings. And this we must continue to do! However, what we often lack is the reparative element of repentance. Being right with God must result in, when and where possible, reconciliation with our neighbor. Remember Zacchaeus!
When I was a child, at a certain part of the Eucharist (a practice that, among Roman Catholics, has now been reinstated), I used to strike my hand upon my heart three times, repeating “by my fault, by my fault, by MY MOST GREVIOUS fault.” On some occasions, during both my private devotions and public worship, I continue this practice. This is very useful, I believe, to impress upon myself the truth of my absolute depravity.
Again when I was in my late teens, soon after I became a Christian, I was convicted by God about the things that I had stolen. As part of my repentance I needed to return what I had stolen. I can assure you that asking forgiveness of others, especially when I had stolen from them and needed to make reparation, was not easy. And yet, by God’s grace (and the graciousness of others) I did so. (“Creeping” to the “Altar” of human reconciliation is, indeed, frightening!) The first example illustrates a physical expression of heart-repentance toward GOD. The second example illustrates a physical expression of penance toward my NEIGHBOR.
Penance does not need to be relegated to the oft-used and oft-illustrated statement of, after confessing our sins to a pastor / priest, “Say ten ‘Our Fathers’ and ten ‘Hail Marys.’” In fact even Roman Catholics recognize the limitations of such a strict interpretation of penance. Penance seeks to make things right. It is a righting of wrong in the human forum —- which, at times, intersects with the Divine forum. Maybe we should become far more pronounced, physical and practical in our expressions of repentance. Maybe “creeping” to the “Altar” of our neighbor’s mercy, a little practical repentance (=penance), is needed.
(As well, it must be noted, that penance may also involve expressing EXCLUSIVLY TO GOD an outward form of inward transformation.)
Donald P. Richmond
Millions of people throughout this country and the world receive a benediction, a blessing, at the end of Divine Service. These benedictions take on a variety of forms depending upon each season of the church year, denominational distinctions, or biblically informed personal preferences. One of my favorite benedictions is “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Having received Holy Communion, the Eucharist, love, peace, and service, are commended.
In fact, given the nature of Holy Communion, love, peace and service, are not just commended, they are commanded. This is emphasized inSt. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian Christians who, while highly gifted, often failed to live a graced life. Instead of properly evaluating their responsibilities to other Christians (and the world at large), as participation in Eucharist clearly calls us to do, they exclusively focused upon their own needs.St. Paul suggests that some of their members were overfed while others went hungry. Their self-centered actions were an affront to God and resulted in both personal illness and social discord. The admonition to “love” and “serve” were ignored, Christ’s Lordship was not honored, and peace was compromised.
The late Dr. Robert E. Webber has written that any Service of Worship, whether Holy Communion is given weekly or not, should always at some time focus upon Christ’s sacrifice, suffering, and propitiatory death. As such, if Webber’s analysis is correct, this emphasis will always commend and command us to love, peace, and service. Christ’s sacrifice always challenges us about the sacrifices we are called to make in order to effectively be and share Christ’s good news.
But how are we to proclaim this peace? How does Christ call us to share? How is Christ’s death (and, of course, resurrection and ascension) to be lived through our lives? St. Francis ofAssisiis purported to have said, “Preach the gospel and, when necessary, use words.” St. Francis makes a good point. Gospel calls us to social action.
And this is precisely the problem. How should we act? In what ways should Christians be socially engaged? Frankly, I believe that most Christians have entirely misapplied the Bible’s emphasis about caring for the poor, marginalized, oppressed, and downtrodden. It is not that we have not sought to do so, but, rather, it is the very manner by which we seek to enact change that is (at best) highly suspicious. Reacting to the gross inaction of many evangelical Christians of the late 1950’s – 1970’s, we have now gone to the opposite extreme.
A number of years ago my very socially active and aware cousins asked me if I believed in Liberation Theology. I told them that the Bible does not in any way contain a system of thought called Liberation Theology, but that the Bible was very much concerned with a theology of liberation. This led to a very fruitful discussion about the distinctions between the two– and there are very significant distinctions.
Christians today often think that social action must be decidedly social. Engaging in a variety of efforts that help others, we believe that we have somehow proclaimed peace. Having taken some action, we naively assume that it is gospel-action. This is not the case. We must proclaim good news through means that are biblically reasonable and responsible. Words and actions are called for, but they must be actions that are properly ordered. Proper social action must be entirely gospel-action or the Bible’s emphasis upon social concern will inevitably be reduced to a form of social gospel. The outcome of doing God’s will in our way, at least in this context, inevitably results in do-gooder Christianity. Such actions are “stillborn” regarding gospel-intention.
Let me be blunt. The peace we proclaim through word and deed must always and without exception have evangelism as its intention. Christ must invariably be our emphasis. Consequently, gospel-action of a social nature must have Church at its center. Evangelism must be the actions of the Eucharistic Ecclesia, the Ecclesia which says “go” and “serve” because we have participated freely in Christ’s body and blood “given” for each of us. We go, serve, and proclaiming peace, as Christians who love others because Christ first loved us. His actions prompt ours. While attentiveness to the needs of others is always to be encouraged, it is doing God’s will in God’s way that imbues such actions (by God’s grace) with redemptive value. When we hear benedictions such as, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we must respond as the Church in Christ’s name.
I celebrate the return of social concern and action among youth today. I relish the challenges proposed by those who oppose the status quo of comfortable Christians. I acknowledge my own need to be challenged. Nevertheless, if we are going to take action let us do so in Christ’s name. Let us return to the gospel that is not just social, but, rather, truly good news of Jesus Christ. All social action is not salvific action. All social action is not sanctifying action. To receive a true benediction, we must “go” and “serve” and “love” from the heart of our Eucharist fellowship.
The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, is an examining chaplain with the Reformed Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, and a widely published author.