Reformation Day, October 31

On this day 495 years ago, Martin Luther either did or did not post 95 theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. Whatever the historical reality, this day is celebrated by Lutherans and many other Protestants as Reformation Day. We Anglicans are uncomfortable with it because we’re not sure we’re Protestant (The Episcopal Church removed “Protestant” from its official title some years ago). Whatever.

I preached this sermon on Reformation Sunday at Luther Memorial Church two years ago.

And because I’ve been thinking a great deal about eucharistic theology, a quotation from Luther’s Confession concerning Christ’s Supper (1528):

See, then, what a beautiful, great, marvelous thing this is, how everything meshes together in one sacramental reality. The words are the first thing, for without the words the cup and the bread would be nothing. Further, without bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ would not be there. Without the body and blood of Christ, the new testament would not be there. Without the new testament, forviveness of sins would not be there. Without forgiveness of sins, life and salvation would not be there. Thus the words first connect the bread and cup to the sacrament; bread and cup embrace the body and blood of Christ; body and blood of Christ embrace the new testament; the new testament embraces the forgiveness of sins; forgiveness of sins embraces eternal life and salvation. See, all this the words of the supper offer and give us, and we mebrace it by faith.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 37, p. 388)




Open Communion, Closed Communion–the debate rages

There’s a lively debate among Episcopal clergy in the Madison area about the words we use in our service bulletins to invite people to communion. I won’t share the particulars of the debate nor why we are currently engaged in it. Here’s what we say at Grace:

We welcome all baptized Christians to take part in the Communion: coming forward to kneel or stand at the altar rail, receiving the bread in an open palm or guiding the chalice to receive the wine. If you would prefer not to receive, you may come forward to the altar rail, crossing your arms on your chest to indicate your desire for a blessing.

We’re not the only ones engaged in this debate. Today appeared two essays that address the issue. One is by Richard Beck, from the Churches of Christ tradition. Beck has written extensively about open communion:

Is communion dangerous?  Should people be warned about their participation?

Yes and yes. But those answers, in light of what we’ve just discussed, do not mitigate against the practice of open communion. In fact, I’d argue that open communion is better positioned here relative to closed communion given the particular warnings we need. More, I’d argue that the fact that communion requires a warning presupposes its openness. Why warn if communion is closed and safe?

So, yes, open communion is dangerous. People do need to be warned, as Paul warned the Corinthians, that if you take this meal of inclusion while shaming, humiliating and excluding others then you’ve brought judgment upon yourself. You’re being a hypocrite as your ritual actions in the Supper are not being supported by your lifestyle. In taking the Lord’s Supper you are professing that you have “equal concern” for others, that you give “greater honor” to the least of these. Thus you bring judgment upon yourself when you shame and humiliate others, when you fail to discern and care for the many parts of body of Christ. Especially the most shameful parts.

The other is by a Lutheran, Russell Saltzman, who wonders why Lutherans can’t take Catholic communion and posits that the reason is women’s ordination.

September 26: Lancelot Andrewes “For Holy Communion”

Today is the commemoration of Lancelot Andrewes. Here’s a biography.


O LORD, I am not worthy, I am not fit,
that Thou shouldest come under the roof of my soul;
for it is all desolate and ruined;
nor hast Thou in me fitting place to lay Thy head.
But, as Thou didst vouchsafe
to lie in the cavern and manger of brute cattle,
as Thou didst not disdain
to be entertained in the house of Simon the leper;
as Thou didst not disdain that harlot, like me, who was a sinner,
coming to Thee: and touching Thee;
as Thou abhorredst not her polluted and loathsome mouth;
nor the thief upon the cross confessing Thee:

So me too the ruined, wretched, and excessive sinner,
deign to receive to the touch and partaking
of the immaculate, supernatural, lifegiving,
and saving mysteries of Thy all‑holy Body
and Thy precious Blood.

Listen, O Lord, our God, from Thy holy habitation,
and from the glorious throne of Thy kingdom,
and come to sanctify us.

O Thou who sittest on high with the Father,
and art present with us here invisibly;
come Thou to sanctify the gifts which
lie before Thee,
and those in whose behalf, and by whom,
and the things for which,
they are brought near Thee.
And grant to us communion,
unto faith, without shame,
love without: dissimulation,
fulfilment of Thy commandments,
alacrity for every spiritual fruit;
hindrance of all adversity,
healing of soul and body;
that we too, with all Saints,
who have been well‑pleasing to Thee
from the beginning,
may become partakers
of Thy incorrupt and everlasting goods,
which Thou hast prepared, O Lord, for
them that love Thee;
in whom Thou art glorified
for ever and ever.
Lamb of God,
that takest away the sin of the world,
take away the sin of me,
the utter sinner.

–From Lancelot Andrewes, The Devotions of Bishop Andrewes, Vol. I (accessed at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

More on the debate over communion without (before?) (instead of?) baptism

A great deal was made several days ago over a post at the Cafe by Andee Zetterbaum:

The question we need to be asking isn’t what SHOULD the theology of baptism and communion be, it’s what is the PERCEIVED theology by the outsider who is present at our worship. And the people who need to be involved in that discussion are:

The 8-year-old who comes to church with her best friend after a sleepoverThe grandchildren who are only here twice a year when they are visiting their grandparents

The 11-year-old who often comes with his grandmother and has been leaving love notes to Jesus on the altar since he was first old enough to write, but whose parents won’t allow him to be baptized until he turns 18

The teen who is clearly uncomfortable being here, but wants to be with her boyfriend

The anti-church spouse

The Muslim grandmother from another country who is here for her grandson’s baptism

The Jewish son-in-law who comes with the family on Christmas

The ‘spiritual but not religious’ 20-something who has moved back in with his parents after college, and only comes to church on Easter to keep the family peace

The homeless person who wanders in off the street

Those who come to share with and honor their loved ones at weddings and funerals

What do our communion practices say to them about the nature of the God we worship? What does God say to them, through the way we share communion?

So I wasn’t going to say anything more on the topic. I’ve made my position clear, and I think at this point there is more heat than light in the conversation. There are those who think open table is crucial to our mission, our proclamation of Jesus Christ, and our self-understanding as inclusive and welcoming communities. There are others who see the practice as an affront to scripture, to two thousand years of Christian practice, and an offense to the sacraments.

Then I read this by Jesse Zink, who visited an “official” Protestant church in China last year:

One Sunday I visited one of the major, sanctioned Protestant churches in Beijing. The congregation stood while the pastor prayed over the communion elements. Then, just before the distribution, the pastor made an announcement. “If you are not baptized, please sit down.” About a third of the congregation did so. They watched while the rest of us received communion that was passed through the pews. None who sat down seemed offended. No one stormed out in a huff. This was how things were. They were not baptized yet but looked forward to the day when they were.

So what’s the difference between this church in Beijing and your average Episcopal congregation, where I can never imagine something like this happening?

One difference—and there are many—is that folks are beating down the door of this church in Beijing. I had to wait in line twenty minutes to get into that service. The sanctuary could probably hold 1000 people and it was standing room only that morning. In the Episcopal Church, perhaps, we’re so desperate for folks to come in, we don’t want to do anything that will turn people away.

I know it won’t change any minds, but still.

“Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”

Bishop Morlino of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, has instructed his clergy to limit the sharing of wine at communion with the laity. Here’s the article.

His decision comes after the Archbishop of Phoenix announced a similar change. Stories about that are here, with a riposte from Anthony Ruff here.

I’m hesitant to comment about development in other denominations because of “the mote in my own eye.” But as a pastor, and as a historian of the period in Christian history when the debate over reception of communion in both kinds burned hot, I find this sad. I won’t debate the legal merits of the decision or even the theological basis (of course Jesus Christ is fully present in both bread and wine). What bothers me is the implicit sacerdotalism and clericalism. To worry about spillage of wine or that some might receive it irreverently seems code language implying that only priests can approach the sacrament. The sharing of the chalice by lay people with lay people is an important symbol of the fact that we are all the Body of Christ and that we all are equally worthy (or unworthy) to approach the holy.

And then there are Jesus’ words:

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (I Corinthians 11:25-26)

All baptized Christians are welcome to receive communion in both kinds at Eucharists at Grace and other Episcopal Churches and we encourage lay people to become chalice bearers.