Who should go forward for Communion?
Question: My sister-in-law grew up Bapist (she’s from GA). She didn’t receive communion with us during a visit to MN-she explained due to her thoughts, words, deeds. I told her that’s the best time to go and mentioned Eph 2:8-10. She came back to me with James 2:14-19. So what do I say to a Baptist PK that responds as such with my Lutheran background?
Thank you for the question!
It’s tempting to start the mulling at the ways Baptists and Lutherans differ.
But in this case, one could argue that it isn’t a Baptist/Lutheran thing.
Instead I think it’s a Holy Communion thing, namely, how should a person receive bread and wine, body and blood, from Jesus after all? That’s fairly audacious, it seems to me. No wonder that there’s wondering about it.
I think that even within traditions there isn’t a clear consensus. For example, the debate about whether children ought to receive communion or not is active, to say the least, within the ELCA, although it is a long standing practice in Orthodox communities.
So a brief and incomplete survey:
Holy Communion is seen by some as a privilege of repentant Christians. That is, one must be cleansed through confession and forgiveness before one is pure enough to receive it.
Others have seen Holy Communion as a sign of hospitality and welcome. If you are a sinner, this meal’s for you. The pre-requisite is precisely that you are a sinner, and who knows all of the sins one commits anyway?
Others see Holy Communion as a sign of the eschaton, namely a sign of God’s reign in its fullness. There is abundance and tangible grace, and we go to it justified and sent out from it to do justice.
Some approach the table solemnly, feeling sincerely unworthy and as if their guilt is and should be front and center.
Others approach the table singing with joy, feeling as if this is the sign that no matter what, they are loved and they want to share the love.
It’s a really interesting question, actually.
I’m haunted by the story of my mentor Walt Bouman who once refused Communion to a man who was active in his congregation…and active in the Ku Klux Klan. Walt maintained that you cannot be part of the body of Christ and engage in such racism.
I absolutely see his point, respect it greatly…and yet how many of us who sincerely profess to be Christians give to the poor, actively engage in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, forgiveness, and so on.
That is, at what point are we aware enough of our sins, or repentant enough, or pure enough to receive pure grace, to partake in Holy Communion?
So it is in part an issue of whether we think there should be standards before you get the bread and the wine. While our reflexive answer might be, ‘yes,’ answering what those standards are gets way trickier.
It could be an opportunity for you to reflect on what you believe about Holy Communion. Why do you receive it, and would there ever be a point when you wouldn’t approach the table?