• Orthodox CommunionMost of my immediate in-laws live here in Lynchburg, one of the Bible Belt’s “City of Churches.” (We’ve now lived in three in a row: Pensacola, FL, Ft. Wayne, IN, and here.) We all go to different churches. Anyway, Mr. & Mrs. Young invited all of us kids to their church—Jerry Fallwell’s church—for the Christmas Eve service last night.

    Amidst the Southern Gospel numbers and Fallwell’s almost patented announcements, fell the “observance” of both of the protestant church’s two ordinances: baptism and communion. So, along with participation, I observed how they were administered—particularly the Lord’s Supper.

    I was disturbed.

    The irony is that it was handled the way I’ve seen it handled throughout my childhood, college years, and early marriage years. Some of the details differ, as do the faces; but the general practice is similar.

    You’ve got a fancy table cloth covering shiny serving tins. Suited ushers (and we knew their titles by the badges on their chests) stand according to apparent hierarchy, receiving their charges from ushers with apparently longer tenures or, at least, advanced standing. Solemn faces, polyester suits, near lockstep synchronization . . . all that was missing was the color guard and bag pipes. After formulaic prayer, it all gets reset for the grape juice; and the pianist nods his head to thank the senior saint who sneaked his glass next to the sheet music.

    It all has the pomp of an Ivy League graduation, the dour of a funeral, the piety of the Vatican. Well, half of those extremes; but you’ve seen it, too. It doesn’t look anything like how I picture the inaugural supper. Does it to you?

    I’ve talked to a lot of fundamentalists who think reverence demands ceremony, that worship rises from liturgy. They’ll condemn the Roman Catholics for their sacraments, yet insist on perfunctory-based introspection. I’ve debated them about whether emotion should be allowed to penetrate corporate encounters with God and whether the service should be more organic—more personal. They point to the Old Testament and the plethora of guidelines for ceremonies, almost always mentioning the priestly garb and life-and-death encounters of the high priest.

    Ironically, I’ve never seen them celebrating the festival of booths or avoiding ham sandwiches. And I’ve never seen them walk the center aisle toward the altar, pomegranates jiggling above the emergency rope wrapped around their ankle.

    It’s like all of the fundamentalist litmus tests: they take the elements of superstitious monasticism they can abide and chuck the rest as non applicable. They rip the temple curtain at their point of perforation. They choose what parts of the Old Testament go beyond examples to New Testament mandate. They blur the line, once thin as a cross.

    The problem is, the New Testament doesn’t tell us what to wear to church, whether percussion is a human or Satanic element, or weather that ham thing was a health preference or disease issue. It doesn’t recommend pomp or circumstance, formulas or usher formations.

    God rarely moves the same way twice throughout Scripture. Why would he create a religious recipe, when the previous one created condemnable Pharisees? Why would he open access to heaven through a path of egg shells? Why would he retry allegory, after an amazingly-vivid series of rites failed to illumine the foreshadowing in the symbolism over the 1,500 years prior to the Resurrection?

    I have a hard time visualizing a seating chart at Christ’s final dinner—or even fancy serving dishes. The disciples didn’t even understand the gravity of the moment when it was happening—busy arguing like good Baptists about artificial roles.

    Should we partake of this memorial introspectively? Yes. Should we avoid flippant words and gluttony, favoritism and drunkenness? Absolutely. But this commemorative moment needs to be less about church and more about intimacy, less about execution and more about humility.

    This is our rendezvous with our betrothed to remind us of his dowry and his promise. They deserve our faithfulness to him until the wedding—the ceremony. I don’t know about you, but my intimacy-building, promise-proving encounters with my wife prior to our nuptials included no scripts, no choreography. It broke into realness, opened into vulnerability, and poured into passion.

    My church’s communion services reflect that. Do yours?

    This entry was posted on Monday, December 25th, 2006 at 11:00 pm and is filed under Ponderlust. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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