Does Communion Build Up or Tear Down Love?

Does Communion Build Up or Tear Down Love? June 15, 2012

There is an interesting conversation regarding the Eucharist over at Homebrewed Christianity. From Dan Hauge:

(I)t’s worth questioning whether Paul’s reiteration of Jesus’ instructions to take the Eucharist “in remembrance of me” is really geared toward remembering the theological significance of Good Friday (as it’s often been understood), or if he might rather be emphasizing “remembrance” of who Jesus was—his radical inclusive love, his barrier-breaking kingdom (or kin-dom, if you like). How you treat each other—with dignity, with mutuality and shared purpose embodied in the equal sharing of sustenance—matters a great deal if the Eucharist is truly going to reflect who Jesus was and what he calls us to be.

I have turned my understanding of communion upside down over the past year in my process of becoming Orthodox. There the Eucharist is the climax of the Liturgy which retraces the mission of Jesus in an Incarnational way. The bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ entering us, but in Orthodoxy it’s a mystery how that actually happens (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The purpose of the Eucharist is healing from spiritual sickness by partaking in a mystical union with God. It is done, or at least how we are supposed to do it, with fasting and confession. The Eucharist is both the death and resurrection of Christ at the same time.

I think that one aspect of spirituality that is missing is much of the West, especially Protestantism, is the importance of fasting and its connection to prayer, justice, and love. The Body and Blood of Christ are not partaken alone but in a liturgical context with others in the Body. It is far from a “normal” meal but one that it sacred and set apart from what we would consider normal consumption. For Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians it was to be seen in distinction from the sacrifices of idol worshipers. As he often does, Paul emphasizes that the Community of Christians is to be and is to function differently than other communions in the world. Its liturgical life is an aspect of this. As Alexander Schmemann writes:

The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom. We use the word ‘dimension’ because it seems the best way to indicate the manner of our sacramental entrance into the risen life of Christ. Color transparencies ‘come alive’ when viewed in three dimensions instead of two. The presence of the added dimension allows us to see much better the actual reality of what has been photographed. In very much the same way, though of course any analogy is condemned to fail, our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world (For the Life of the World).

Paul offers the criteria to the Corinthians that this is 1) a meal set apart from the kind of mean that one would have at home at 2) that we ought to approach it after self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28). His point is that the Eucharist is to bring people together as one body and if it is a source of division it is worse that ineffectual it’s condemnable.

What are your thoughts about communion? Do you see it causing similar problems as Paul observed in Corinth? How does it unify the Christian community in your context? Is it a central or subsidiary event in your church? How is Communing with each other and with God work with the church missions of love and charity? Does this ritual feast build up or block Christian virtue and service in the world?

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