By Michael Kimpan
Earlier this week, I outed myself as an Evangelical – though progressive I may be.
And while I’m quite comfortable donning the label, there are admittedly more than just a few things i’d like to see change in existing communities of faith that also identify as followers of Jesus.
But some traditions run deep within the subculture of christianity.
i’ve skirted around the edges of tipping over some of our sacred cows before – namely, questioning the primary place of the sermon in community gatherings which feeds our addiction to answers and the inherent exclusivity and elitism found in the current expression of church membership – but don’t worry…it’s nothing that crazy.
I just want to mess with Communion a little bit.
Some call it "The Lord’s Supper," or "The Eucharist." Regardless of what we call it, or how many times our community of faith expression practices it (weekly? bi-weekly? monthly? more? less?), it’s a significant event in the life of a local church – and therefore seen as an important event in the life of a Christian.
It has the potential to be beautiful – and i’ve been part of more than a few sacred moments centered around the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine in remembrance of the life and work of Jesus. We remembered together, and brought back to life in our own conversations the teachings and example of The Christ we claim to follow.
Such a thing is a holy moment, and i believe it holds the power to transform death to life.
But sadly, this is not always the case – and I fear that is, at least in part, because of the way in which this sacrament is not only practiced, but protected by the church and her tradition.
In fact, that may be the most damning indictment of how far from the original "Last Supper" we have come.
Some years after Jesus left his disciples here on Earth to continue doing the great work he had done – declaring that with the help of the Spirit of God which dwells in each of us we would "do greater works than these" if we followed after his example – an early community of faith in the ancient port city of Corinth got a fairly stern talking to in a letter written by The Apostle Paul about… you guessed it …Communion.
He even said their meeting as a church did more harm than good.
Paul had heard through the grapevine that when Christians in the city came together as a church, there were divisions among them – evidenced by the way they practiced this sacred remembrance of Jesus. When they gathered together, some would eat and drink their fill while others had not yet come to the table. Some even stuffed their faces until they were drunk, and allowed others within the community to go hungry.
Side note: Paul was the famed apostle to the Gentiles – bringing to the entire known world a stunning revelation that the acceptance, grace, and love of God extended far beyond the previously established borders of ‘the chosen’ nation of Israel, and now included the entire world – those who were previously outcast and marginalized and found to be unworthy were now declared worthy, celebrated and grafted into the gracious family of God along with the rest of humanity because of that which they were called to remember – the life, teachings, and example of Jesus – the very visible image of an invisible God… the word made flesh.
Forgetting this, it seems, was at the core of the self-centeredness of the church in Corinth …and problematic to the Apostle who would go so far as to tell another faith community that even circumcision – the sign of the covenant made between Abraham, the father of the faith, and YHVH – was not essential for salvation.
He even cussed them out in a letter (the book of Galatians – which is today celebrated, though in a sanitized and edited form, as part of the inspired collection of the words of God in our Bibles) for demanding that those who previously did not belong and now did had to somehow conform to the old rules and old laws put in place before the divine revelation of Jesus. It’s like they forgot everything he taught.
Which brings us back to Communion. "This do in remembrance of me."
What, exactly are we remembering?
Perhaps what Jesus meant, in the context of this Last Supper he shared with his friends, was to remember all he had taught them – summed up that same night with acts of service, kindness, and a command to love one another.
Invited into that Supper were not only the favorite and closest disciples, or the ones who "got it."
And even they were a band of misfits.
Though he tried really hard, Peter missed the point so much that he swung 180 degrees – from "don’t touch me" to "bathe my whole body" - in only a moment …and later denied ever even knowing Jesus.
Nearly all of them ran from Jesus’ side that night for fear of the consequences from the very Kingdom Jesus had taught them not to fear.
And then, of course, there’s Judas… the one who sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, described by one disciple as having been taken over by the Devil himself, and yet was invited to the table, and served by God incarnate with welcome.
Perhaps when we celebrate doing this act in remembrance of the one we call Messiah, we too should welcome all of those who don’t believe exactly as we do, rather than making a distinguishing declaration that it’s only for a select group of people.
Perhaps we should welcome even those who don’t call Jesus The Messiah.
Perhaps we too should serve and welcome the doubters, deniers and betrayers as readily as Jesus himself did.
Perhaps the act of "remembering Christ" in our communal celebration has more to do with our lives outside of that moment – and acts as a centering point to engage with others in the way in which he did – rejecting the overbearing rules and regulations of the religious institution and instead opting for the law of love.
Perhaps we would do well to remember the multiple times (over 45 separate occasions recorded in the Gospel narratives alone) Jesus crossed over religious or cultural boundaries in order to stand in solidarity with the marginalized.
Perhaps we would do well to remember the hungry, the poor, the outcast in our communities; and rather than getting drunk on the sweet wine of our dogma and doctrine, invite even our enemies to drink deep from the well of the life-giving water that flows beyond boundaries of man made dams of religious protocol.
Perhaps we can commit to quench our community’s thirst for justice by breaking down the barriers in our own lives that promote systemic inequality and intolerance.
Perhaps when we take communion, we would do well to remember the words of jesus spoken moments after they had shared their meal:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That type of communion would, I think, be something worth celebrating.
Michael Kimpan has a proven history of helping individuals and institutions think critically about matters of faith and culture through his writing, teaching and consulting with churches, organizations, higher education institutions, and not-for-profit organizations. He has a BA in Youth Ministry and Biblical Theology from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL and continued his seminary training at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Michael is a prolific contributor to Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians website, and has written numerous articles for other in print and online publications such as Relevant Magazine and patheos.com.