Food for the journey

As I was closing down my computer in anticipation of this weekend's wedding, I came across this selection from John Dominic Crossan that screamed for another posting. It is in response to the supposed controversy created by the writer, Sally Quinn, going forward to accept Eucharist at the funeral mass of her friend and colleague, Tim Russert. (See Quinn's own writing at:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sally_quinn/2008/07/why_i_took_holy_communion.html)
As one who has gone to the table at a variety of Roman Catholic churches - knowing full well that the Bishop of Rome has forbidden me to accept the Sacrament because I am a Protestant - I like what Quinn did and what Crossan wrote. As one who was a full member of a Catholic faith and prayer group in Cleveland - even though I am a Protestant clergy - I have experienced the
"deep ecumenism" of the table and rejoice in that connection. Sometimes it has been with farm workers in California, other times it was in the Cleveland projects or in the quest for justice with the GLBT community in Arizona. Always my experience was been akin to Merton's who found that monks and the ordinary folk of a tradition often find their way towards common ground while the priests and scribes and pharisees have all the trouble. But I am curious about your thoughts and reactions?

Here's what Crossan, of the Jesus Seminar, wrote. Let me know what you think, ok? See you next week. Sally, and only Sally, can say whether she should or should not have received communion at Tim Russert's funeral mass. From how she herself described it, my own answer is an emphatic yes. But since the sacraments belong to Christ rather even than to Christianity and certainly to Christianity rather than just to Roman Catholicism nobody would have had the right to refuse her. What God has brought together in Christ, do not dare to put asunder in Church.

When you ritually recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" are you pledging your life to a piece of multi-colored cloth. Of course not. Are you pledging your life to the republic for which it stands? Well, yes and no. Yes, definitely yes, if you mean "liberty and justice for all." But no, definitely no, if you are merely thinking about a huge area of land between Canada and Mexico.

Ritual participation may be offhand, distracted, unintentional, and meaningless. It may be sheer unthinking habit or mere contagious emulation of others. But that pledge is very, very straightforward. I pledge myself to liberty and justice for all. You will understand, therefore, why we prefer to debate whether "under God" should or should not be included as a magnificent red herring to distract us from asking whether we have the slightest intention of promoting liberty and justice for all.

Who can or should recite that pledge? Anyone who believes in it and intends to live by it. Would a non-American visitor who lived by that faith have more right to it than an American citizen who did not? My answer is: emphatically yes. Rituals have meaning and, therefore, intentional participation in them is either vital commitment or something between vacuity and hypocrisy.

The Christian Eucharist has two intertwined layers. First, it is bread and wine, the standard summary of a Mediterranean meal, the normal synthesis of Mediterranean eating. It is, in other words, about food. Throughout his life, Jesus insisted that food, as the material basis of life, was to be fairly and equitably distributed to all God's children around God's table. He imagined God-as-Householder (he said "Father" but that was patriarchal normalcy) of the House-World or Homemaker of the Home-earth. And his question was--as in any well-run family--whether everyone had enough or some members had far too much while others had far too little.

Second, none of that was about compassionate charity but about distributive justice. (The Roman Empire did not crucify you for insisting on the former but for insisting too much on that latter.) So Jesus, having lived for non-violent justice died from violent injustice. When one dies an ordinary death, we speak of the separation of body and soul. But a violent death--like crucifixion--involves a separation of body and blood.

In forging the magnificent eucharistic ritual, those twin layers were inextricably linked together to proclaim this: if you live for justice very strongly you could die from injustice very swiftly. When those earliest Christians participated in that ritual, they understood all too well what it meant and to what they were committing themselves. They were pledging themselves to a way of life by participating in the life (definitely) and death (possibly) of Jesus.

They did not have time to debate about the exact mechanics of the "transubstantiation" of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (watch for red herrings, always watch for red herrings) because they were too acutely aware of their own "transubstantiation" from Roman citizens to Christian traitors.

Finally, then, we can face our question. In general: who should accept the eucharistic ritual? Those and only those who are intentionally, self-consciously, and publicly committing themselves to live like Jesus and, if unfortunately ever necessary, to die like Jesus. That is, of course, an on-going lifelong process and it is precisely such eucharistic participation that initiates, continues, and consummates it. The eucharist both proclaims and empowers a life, as Paul, would say, "in Christ" or, better "in the body of Christ."

Comments

Black Pete said…
As a minister's spouse, and as a person of faith who nonetheless does not accept the divinity and lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, I struggle with communion, what it means, and whether or not I ought to take it, all the time.

In doing so, I have gone from going through the motions, to altering the response I make (often to a shortened "Shema" in Hebrew), to staying clean away from it.

These days, I accept communion and in Sally Quinn's position, would have done the same. Communion is based on comments attributed to Jesus in the description of the Last Supper, as we call it, with his disciples; the authenticity of some of the remarks made, including his definition of the significance of the bread and wine, is in some doubt. Leaving that aside, I focus in on "Do this to remember me."

Remember Jesus? Of course, and remember his example and teachings. Keep them in mind, and in doing so, share a ritualistic meal ( a holy event in itself) with fellow travelers. And especially at a funeral, where we have come to pay our respects, by all means accept communion As You Understand It (if that sounds familiar, it should...).

I have been at an Aboriginal funeral and accepted the sage and sweetgrass. I have attended a Hindu celebration of the birth of Krishna, and rocked the tiny cradle and chanted as best i can, the prayers. The key is here is being with the people mourning and the people celebrating, offering your presence and your best understanding of that in which you participate.

The struggle continues.
Black Pete said…
Addendum to the foregoing: Why take communion at all?

Because I need God, and in taking communion, I am publicly saying that for all to hear/see.

To me, this trumps all other reasons.

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