Musing from an Unbeliever[1] at the Lord’s Table

Saturday night as Joe, Wendy, Jason, and I sat playing Stone Age, Wendy and Jason began talking about a few details for the next morning’s worship session.  In the course of the conversation, Jason asked, “Aren’t we having communion during worship tomorrow?”  Wendy confirmed and I tried to focus on the game to help distract me from the thoughts that had suddenly burst into my head — or least keep them from becoming obvious to any of my companions.  Because communion is quite possibly the one Christian ritual[2] that I struggle with participating in, though I’m not sure many people understand why that is.

In many ways, I feel blessed to be devoted to gods that are rather lenient when it comes to participating in the rites of other faiths.  Their attitude tends to be, “you have your obligations to us.  As long as what you choose to do does not interfere with or contradict those obligations, feel free to follow your conscience.

No, the discomfort I have with communion stems from the fact that I deeply respect the rites and practices of other faiths.  In the case of communion, different Christians see communion quite differently, and it’s hard to tell if the most respectful thing to do is to participate or not.

In the church where I grew up, communion was Very Serious Business.  On those Sundays in which my church served communion — it was conducted roughly once a month — the minister would read 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 without offering any commentary or explanation, then go on to tell the congregation that they should only take communion if (1) they were “saved” and (2) had made their hearts right with God.

Like I said, for some Christians, communion is Very Serious Business.  My first church was one such church.  And I know many other churches who hold the view that only Christians should participate in communion.

Rites mean something to their faith communities, and sometimes, it’s not always easy to determine what those rites mean, especially in a situation like this past weekend where people are coming from diverse Christians backgrounds, each of which may have subtle (and not so subtle) differences in how they interpret this particular rite.

So when it comes to communion, I often find myself uncomfortable with participating in the right communion of communion because I’m not sure what I’m “signing up for” or “saying” by my participation, which makes it difficult for me to really decide if I can do so honestly.  And to me, participating in a rite dishonestly is one of the biggest forms of disrespect.

In the end, I did end up participating in the rite.  Wendy had each community group — the small groups we had been divided into for the purpose of sharing and growing together — in turn and partake together.  Under those circumstances, I felt a bit better about participating.  My community group (and Wendy) for that matter knew where I stood theologically, so I didn’t feel I had to worry so much about being dishonest.

Plus, this was a group of people I had grown fond of and close to over the previous day and a half.  Sharing in that rite with them seemed like the correct — and highly desirable — thing to do.

[1] Someday, I will write a blog post in which I unpack everything I don’t like about that word and others like it.

[2] I suppose I might feel the same way about baptism if the assumption was that everyone present was going to get baptized.  In my experience, that’s not normally the case.

6 thoughts on “Musing from an Unbeliever[1] at the Lord’s Table”

  1. You are braver than I am. Good for you for being willing to go there…because I’m not sure I could. Really.

    It sounds like overall you had a meaningful time, and I’m hoping that there was some good exchange of perspectives while you were therea.

  2. Thanks, Erin. I’ll be sharing more thoughts about the conference in the near future, though tomorrow’s post will only be tangentially related to it, as I’ll be writing about one of my occasional obsessions: labyrinths.

    As for my bravery (and you’re not the first person who’s said something to me about that), I’m of mixed feelings about that and may even touch on that subject as I continue to process my thoughts.

  3. I get the hesitation, and the respect it shows, but I can’t help but wonder if Christians haven’t jumped on the literal boat too quickly on that one as well.

    It’s supposed to be a picture of the Last Supper, thus a picture of Passover – as that is what the Last Supper was. It was about sharing a meal and friendship – fellowship. Jesus only said “Do this in rememberance of me.” He didn’t say anything about “Don’t let anyone who doesn’t agree with you do this!” or “This is worship and keep it private.”

    It wasn’t till later and Paul that the “Danger!” entered into it. And even that was one letter, to one congregation, one group of people at one time in the continuum, that had their own set of challenges to address. Yet we have turned it into this all or nothing thing.

    I would dare say you were “in rememberance” during that time. You were showing more respect than many Christians do to the ritual and what it means. I can’t see God being displeased with that.

  4. You are so right Jarred that communion is approached differently by various Christian/churches. My views, over the years, have become much more generous. I see this as an invitation to be receptive to grace …. and if people want grace in their lives …. then they should feel free to participate. The God I serve is generous to extend grace to whoever seeks it. I think he is much bigger and more loving than most petty rules that Christians come up with.

    However, as I said to you privately, it was my oversight to have not offered an invitation to refrain from participating if one so desired. And I certainly would never want anyone to feel like they “had” to participate.

    BTW – Did you go the labyrinth at Crieff during your free time?

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