When Human Minds Decide

 

 

One of the beautiful parts of faith for me is communion.

I am well aware that biblical experts would argue that the gospels as they relate to the issue of communion are not to be read literally. I am aware that the statements attributed to Jesus are considered more metaphor than as directive, more symbol than substance.

Yet, the act of communion seeks, it seems to me, to elevate us as humans into the realm of the divine in a way that is both beautiful and enriching.

I choose, by faith, to believe that in some mysterious way, I draw closer to my God through the act of communion.

As such, it was the most, nay, only, real pain that I felt when I was advised that my marriage to a previously divorced man, made me unfit for communion. I confess, knowing all that I know about the Catholic faith, which is fairly extensive, that I never thought that marriage to a divorced man who himself was not Catholic nor ever married to a Catholic would place this impediment in front of me.

It is the main reason that I left the church for a couple of years and sought a religious home in the Episcopal church. There I learned much. I had been well grounded in basic theology and biblical studies beforehand through the efforts of a priest and a couple of extraordinarily scholarly nuns. I was well on my way to the progressive side of my Church.

When I entered into communion with the Episcopal church, I learned even more. Again, I was gifted with many scholarly priests and laity who helped me to broaden my understanding of my Christian faith. I learned most especially that no human being has the right (moral at least) to judge that anyone else is unworthy of receiving communion.

That has come to be my belief. God is more than capable of making this decision with no input from our frail human understanding. God can withhold Himself (if you can imagine such a thing) from those who He deems unworthy. God’s church is there for one purpose–to bring people to know God, and to work in community to assist the uplifting of each and every person to full humanity–meaning that each is fed, clothed, schooled, medically treated, housed, and provided with good work at fair wages. The Church calls us to peaceful coexistence with those of other faiths and to community and common goals of good will toward all.

That is why it hurts so much to witness those who accept the Church’s ugly decision to withhold communion from its own. A woman of Asian descent sits close to me most Sundays. She is soft-spoken, with a sweet smile. She was a reader of the Word a few Sunday’s ago. She read a piece from James so beautifully that it was the best reading I have ever heard. Yet, when it comes to communion, she sits down and prays by herself.

Last Sunday, a man sat in front of me. He was clearly not wealthy, and was a simple sort. He prayed and moved through the Mass as one expects of someone who was a cradle-Catholic. He held to some of the “old” ways. He exhibited the simple piety that I find so endearing among so many who are in the later years and were raised in the faith. He too sat down when it came to communion.

I know not what the “impediments” these two lived with. I know that it would do no good to speak to them, for they accept without question the church’s right to impose this exile upon them. They would be appalled no doubt at the suggestion that they should go forth to receive the bread and wine.

I am only so very sad for them. For I find it so unnecessary and so harsh and unfair. It is not in line with the teachings of Christ. It is a human rule, based on some logical deduction of long-held and established truths of the church. While logic often times is useful in discovering truth, it sometimes leads to unfairness and wrong thinking.

This is one of them from my point of view.

 

 

God Invites

One of many great lessons I learned in the Episcopal Church has to do with the table of the Lord. Again and again, the priest intoned, “it is the Lord who calls us to the table, not the church.” My own church would do well to heed this advice.

Sadly of course, we know that so far it has not. It continues to pick and choose, based on often flimsy biblical evidence, who may approach the communion table. And the scriptures today, do point to this fallacy it seems to me.

In Ezekiel 17: 22-24, God speaks through the prophet:

I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.

Now I would be the first to tell you that exegetically speaking, this passage probably has nothing at all to do with Jesus. Just as assuredly, all Christians look to the Hebrew Scriptures as speaking to the coming of Christ. So in the passage above, the tender shoot is Jesus, who will put forth his Church, bearing branches and fruit. Note that it further says, “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, . . .” Now this may in fact be stretching a point, but I don’t think it unfair to suggest that the passage doesn’t limit those who will find a home there to only some chosen group or groups.

While there is no direct statement in Ezekiel, we are further advised in 2 Corinthians, that we, as believers, “walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, we as followers in Jesus must do our best to understand his teachings and then live by them, trusting in faith that God, through the great Spirit of Wisdom will guide us aright.

Of even more importance, we must recognize that as members of the body, we are all individually responsible for living up to our baptismal promises. We cannot, much as we might like, rely on the Church to advise us on what is good and proper. Paul tells us:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5: 6-10)

Surely we must always give due respect to the official teaching of the Church, and we must do everything in our power to understand and reconcile our own beliefs with those of the Church. But in the end, it is our own conscience which must lead us forth, and we cannot stand behind the curtain of the Church on judgment day, however you might define that for yourself. We are each solely responsible for our living up to our promises to do good.

It is always a bit amusing to me how the more conservative members of the Christian community tend to rely most heavily on Saint Paul to the exclusion often times of Jesus himself.

Jesus was noted, throughout his entire ministry for inclusion rather than exclusion. He went out of his way to point this out, in the people he ate with and in the people he healed. Many of his “friends” were scandalous. They were non-Jews, gentiles and Samaritans, unclean persons, tax collectors, and all manner of reprobates. And he treated them all with the same welcome. He healed, he broke bread, he spoke with them.

He at no time ever advised his followers to reject anyone as unworthy.

Yet the Church does.

Is our Lord powerful enough to deny his presence to any of us if he deems us unworthy to meet him at the table?

If so, then it would seem prudent to allow him to make his own choices. The Church should in every way, welcome, soothe, and minister to the all God’s people.

But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4:26-34)

Amen.

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