2015: Advent Religion: All Who Love The Lord

by on December 14, 2015

The proper commemoration of the Last Supper has been a hot theological topic for, oh, a couple of millenia now. We can’t agree on hardly anything about it. How often should you do it? How should you do it? Who gets to participate? Who gets to perform? How does it even work? What is it even for?

I am not a theologian, and explaining all the schools of thought on the ritual variously known as Mass, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion, and probably half a dozen other things before you even leave English, is well beyond my knowledge. I know there’s a distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation, and I can sort of follow debates on the subject, but I’m not going to summarise because I know I’d cock it up. There’s another, even more fundamental distinction that I am willing to take a stab at though: whether anything happens at all.

We belonged to the school that says nothing happens. When you say the words and eat the bread, you have said words and eaten bread and nothing else has changed. The bread and wine remain bread and wine – just bread and wine, the same as they were before you did the ritual, and there is nothing sacred about them. You are not more saved or less sinful than you were before you took them. God is not an active participant in the process.

This is a school of thought that regards communion solely as a commemoration. We do it in remembrance, but it has no effect in itself. The belief and the practice aren’t always aligned, of course – we thought that any Christian could administer Communion to any other, but we felt that it ought to be a priest, even though we didn’t think priests were real. We thought it didn’t have any effect, but we didn’t like to go too long without taking it. Some things we almost defiantly stuck to – my teenage church had nothing whatsoever to mark a person’s first communion. Growing into it was something you did on your own time and by your own conscience. We refused to make a public statement of it.

In some ways, our attitude to communion was deeply radical. We proclaimed a faith without gatekeepers. We had no bishops. We didn’t believe in priests. You didn’t have to be confirmed to take communion. You didn’t have to be baptised. You didn’t have to be Christian. Anyone, absolutely anyone, could take the bread and wine and we asked no questions, because absolutely everyone had the right.

This is a part of my religious heritage that I fiercely love. You can take the status games and the gender roles but this bit, I am keeping. The rest is shell. This is the nut. There are no gatekeepers. There are no gates. The Divine has come down to live amongst us, and all who love are welcome at the table.

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