My son was very upset with his grandparents one Sunday morning. Their church passed the elements of Holy Communion. My son watched his relatives take bread and juice from the trays while refusing to share any of it with him. They were appalled by his reaction. He was then four years old. I explained it to them. In our church everyone receives communion. Their church only baptized believers received it. Try explaining that to a three year old. We did not send him to church with them again. The issue raised by some Roman bishops in America reminded me of this event. May President Joe Biden receive Holy Communion?
The question arose some years ago when John Kerry ran for President. The Democratic Party does not favor laws restricting a woman’s choice in terminating her pregnancy. The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion. Can a politician be a good Catholic and support abortion rights? Joe Biden was refused Communion in a Catholic Church a few years ago. Somehow he survived the disrespect and did not run away in horror at himself to live a monastic life in the desert (see the story of St. Mary the Harlot). Yes I am being sarcastic. The Priest got his name in the press which was his heart’s deepest desire (speaking of harlots).
A lay member, who also liked being seen as an arbiter of righteousness, told me she believed Senator Kerry should not receive Communion. As United Methodists, we practice an Open Table. My response was, “You don’t get to decide that here.” It did not occur to her that she was also unable to receive Holy Communion in the Roman church. If the Roman church refused John Kerry, then in their eyes he was just like her. I left that point alone. I wanted her to leave my study.
Holy Communion is a gift. God gives it to the world through the Church. If Judas Iscariot could receive the elements at the Last Supper, I wonder who can’t. Refusing someone Holy communion is neither my call nor privilege. As any parent in a custody battle knows, attempts to control a gift is ultimately an attempt to control the giver. But the gift is not to be received lightly either.
Abstaining from the Table
The 2019 special called General Conference was a disaster. The Bishops failed to maintain order. The delegates lost control of themselves. The progressives became so upset with the African delegations their responses bordered on racism with colonialist tendencies. A question arose concerning whether a bishop was polygamous. The “traditionalists” who threatened to leave were still leaving.
Question and answer meetings were held in many Annual Conferences including mine. The presenters of the session I attended held a Service of Holy Communion at the beginning of the meeting. St. Paul says, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” (1 Corinthians 11:29) Paul has just castigated the Corinthians for making Holy Communion about the haves and the have-nots. The next chapter is about the integrity of the body as a symbol of the church. Did I want to take Communion with people hell-bent on destroying our fellowship? No. I did not. But I sat there and stewed over it.
Finally, I decided my emotions were too raw to decide. The church I served, led, pushed, cajoled, defended, and loved was bleeding. Some of the people causing the bleeding were in the room. I stood and got in line still debating with myself. What should I do? I received the elements and heard the words, “Don this is the body of Christ given for you. This is the blood of Christ given for you.” I was in the divine presence and did not turn away from it.
Communion Is God’s Business
I visited a friend’s Orthodox Church the month before this all took place. I am not able to receive the sacrament there either. But, the church provides bread from the loaves and wine on a separate table. It is the same stuff that makes Holy Communion. I took some from that table. The practical theologian considered this providence. It is a way of saying, “We know Holy Communion is not about the right words or theology. Holy Communion is a Divine gift. It is God’s business.
I suggest to anyone believing they cannot give or receive Holy Communion with someone like Joe Biden (or Donald Trump for that matter) consider the role their own ego is playing. Get over it. It is not your gift any way. The only right thing to do is withdraw your self from the sacrament until you discern the body.