As I shared in my last post, I’ve been working toward a D.Min. I’ve shared before why, and it has less to do with the degree than a deep desire for some structure in my faith life (in other words, help me get control of the mess going on in my head).
My final project focuses on the intersection of Eucharistic theology and social ethics—how our Eucharistic practices (Lord’s Supper) inform, interact, and even challenge how we live our lives day-to-day.
Last Spring I invited my congregation to recall a positive experience around a table with other people: a meal, a cup of coffee, etc. I then invited them to write about it and sen their narratives to me.I received about 30 or so stories, ranging from childhood memories around the kitchen table, to holiday meals past and present, to ruminations about meal fellowship in general. Many shared wonderful details about those experiences, including the tables themselves, and how they shaped the authors and their current relationships.
Now we are attempting enter into the scary and often ambiguous realm of trying to draw some connections between those relationship-shaping experiences in our daily lives and our faith experience in the Eucharistic meal that our congregation shares the first Sunday of each month. Are there any connections? if so, what are they? If not, why not? What’s different between our common meals, like those written about last Spring, and the “common meal” (read Acts 2) we share during Sunday morning worship?
I’ve invited the congregation to respond to a questionnaire about their perspectives of Communion/Eucharist. I’ve slowly started pouring through them. Many connect our practice to Jesus’ Last Supper (see 1 Cor. 11.17-34, Mark 14.17-31, Matthew 26.20-34, and Luke 22.14-38—in John’s gospel their is no bread or wine, but a foot washing, at the Last Supper). But, in Acts 2 we read the early Christians gathered for a common meal.
We learn from other texts that the meal was a full meal, not a symbolic meal like we have today. Not to say we need to do things “like they used to do,” as some Christians have been advocating—maybe, but I’m not advocating that. What fascinates me is that there seems to not be one single Eucharistic tradition, but many (from Paul’s Words of Institution 1 Corinthians, to a single cup in Mark and Mathew, two cups in Luke, and a foot washing in place of the cup and bread in John). By limiting our Eucharistic practices to the Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, are limiting the potential influence of the ritual meal we share?
How does our Eucharistic meal practice help shape my “response” to the person who cuts me off on the road? Or what about the person asking for money as I enter the grocery store? Or those people in my life who have a natural ability to get under my skin and push my cranky buttons? Like when the person next to me right now at the coffee shop has decided to watch a video on his phone at full volume without headphones? Or my kids when they don’t do what I think they should be doing? Or when I don’t live the kind of life I think I could be living? Or how my elders at church shape our annual budget or envision our work together? Does this sacramental practice have anything to say to these things? What does just the idea of “ritual” have to say to us about these things?
I’m looking forward to exploring this further with my congregation. I hope it will bear fruit for us as we try to discern what it is God is calling us into in this season of our life together both in church and outside of it.