Communion as a political weapon

Sunday, November 29, 2009

When I'm asked to officiate a wedding, my standard modus operandi is to ask the bride and groom if they wish communion during the service. In United Methodist circles, communion is optional at weddings and most couples turn down the offer. If they do wish communion, my only rule is this: It must be made available to everyone who comes. It's not just for the bride and groom or the full wedding party. It's offered to all in attendance.

When you have a policy like the aforementioned, there can be problems. Case in point: Years ago, a man approached me to receive the host (the bread). I said, "Body of Christ for you." The man's response was, "Can I get fries with that?" I don't think I've ever been as angry in a worship service as in that particular moment.

From the Internet comes a story from an Anglican service in Hong Kong in which a man approached the priest to receive communion with a cell phone to his ear. As it came his time to be handed the host, the man said into his phone, "Hold on a second," took the bread, put it in his mouth and resumed the conversation on his BlackBerry. My guess is that unnamed priest was sorely tempted to pull back his hand. However, I'm sure he didn't.

We've got to be careful not to use the table of our Lord as a weapon to enforce behavior. When the man asked me for fries, I thought he was a jerk. It seems to me, however, that Christ died for all of us, including jerks. Especially jerks. "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

We've also got to be careful not to use the table of our Lord as a weapon to induce right thinking. Apparently, congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island received a letter last weekend from his local diocese barring him from the sacrament of communion. Reason? His support of abortion rights. Be advised: I have no interest in Mr. Kennedy's politics. It is immaterial when it comes to communion. He's a sinner, just like me. Just like you. Christ's command to dine at his table in remembrance of him had no qualifiers, no exceptions listed. At this point, you may quote me St. Paul, who wrote or dictated the following: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." (I Cor. 11:27)

To read the apostle's words out of context is to do an injustice. In the verses leading up to his declaration in verse 27, he makes clear what upset him: The wealthy were taking the sacrament without waiting for the poorer members of their fellowship. As a result, there was nothing for the socioeconomically disadvantaged when they finally arrived. Paul's admonition is to wait for "the body" (of Christ) to be present fully before proceeding. The key verse is verse 29. In it, Paul does not recommend church-mandated prohibitions but rather that "a man must examine himself" before coming for the sacrament. In other words, any decision not to take communion should be self-imposed.

You are free to disagree with the foregoing interpretation. Many will, and that's fine. In disagreement, I respect other views and have no wish to argue. But I am tired of reading stories about politicians, Rep. Kennedy only the latest one mentioned, being barred from the sacrament for his views. I can only say if he ever showed up at Centenary, I'd serve him.

A word of caution: If you approach me for communion holding a cell phone to your ear or asking for french fries, I will not be amused.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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