Monday, June 04, 2012

Thoughts On Communion



Τη αυτη ημερα θεασαμενος τινα εργαζομενον τω σαββατω ειπεν αυτω· ανθρωπε, ει μεν οιδας τι ποιεις, μακαριος ει· ει δε μη οιδας, επικαταρατος και παραβατης ει του νομου.

On the same day, seeing one working on the sabbath, [Jesus] said to him: "Man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed: but if you don't know, you are cursed and a transgressor of the law." - Codex Bezae at Luke 6:4

See lines 16-20 (beginning in the middle of line 16) in the manuscript page:

Image 391 of 856 - Page 205v

Some background

First read these two older posts I wrote about communion:

"Single-Serving Jesus"

Last Supper, Eucharist, And The Didache

From reading them you can see that there are probably no definitive answers for the many questions one might have about communion. Rather, there are several traditions on which one may base one's view and practice, and in this post I'm going to give you my thoughts and address some of the questions and options.

Leavened or unleavened bread?

A friend who is an expert in Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek told me during lunch near Jerusalem where he lives that the New Testament use of ἄρτος (bread, loaf) for the communion loaf without the adjective for "unleavened" (ἄζυμος) doesn't prove anything, because (if I recall his comment correctly) a Hebrew or Aramaic speaker would have used the same word when taking and blessing either leavened or unleavened bread.

If one considers the Last Supper to have been a Passover meal and bases one's view and practice of communion on that, then one would likely want to use unleavened bread.

If, however, one sees the chronology in the Gospel of John as indicating that the Last Supper occurred before the Passover, then one might want to use leavened bread.

If one's view and practice of communion are based on things other than the Last Supper - e.g., Jesus' table meals or His feeding of the multitudes - then one is probably free to use whatever kind of bread one wishes.

Real wine or grape juice? 

I favor using wine in keeping with the Biblical tradition, but based on this informative article from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible it appears that wine diluted 2:1 or 3:1 with water is probably most in keeping with what was used at the Last Supper and by the early church, though mixing today's wines with more water than a 1:1 ratio will greatly weaken the taste. Such mixed wine would still be strong enough to cause intoxication if too much was drunk (see Paul's comment at 1 Corinthians 11:21), yet weak enough for all to drink (preferably shared from a single cup) without negative effects. While some churches allow white wine, I think the blood symbolism is lost if anything other than red or purple-colored wine or grape juice is used.

A single loaf & cup or individual pieces/wafers/crackers & cups?

Paul's comment at 1 Corinthians 10:17, as well as Jesus' taking of a single loaf (ἄρτος) at the Last Supper, are reasons I favor using a single loaf - to be broken as it's distributed, either by each person or by the host after saying the blessing - so as to preserve and present the symbolism of the participating members being one body. Though The Didache preserves a tradition of broken bread pieces (which could have come from a single loaf), the word (κλάσμα - "fragment, piece, crumb") is singular in both its occurrences, rather than plural, which has led scholars to speculate that the original text read ἄρτος, as it's hard to see how a single fragment could be "scattered over the mountains" (unless the word meant "broken loaf").

I also favor all drinking from a single cup, as that seems to be tradition in the Last Supper accounts and 1 Corinthians 10:1-11:34 and The Didache, and also because of this comment from Thomas O'Loughlin:
One of the distinguishing features of the meals of Jesus was that he took a cup and, having blessed the Father, shared it with his disciples. This is a ritual without parallel in the ancient world: it is one thing to offer a thanksgiving over a cup—and by extension over all the cups of the participants of the meal—but quite another to pass a single cup from one to another. Yet here we find this practice: to share a cup is to assert an intimate unity and a common purpose. The disciples have to be prepared to drink from the cup of Jesus (> Mark 10:38–39) and thereby they share in his destiny. At the meal in the Didache one of the rituals is that the single cup of the Lord is shared by all those at the meal. One cup is unity, and it cuts across every human boundary and division—it is not accidental that Christians have always tried to find ways around sharing the cup in their celebrations! - (O’Loughlin, T. (2010). The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (95). London; Grand Rapids, MI: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Baker Academic.)

Separate ritual or meal component? 

I would prefer or at least suggest that communion be part of a shared meal, possibly opening with blessing and breaking the bread and closing with sharing the cup, though partaking of both together, either at the beginning or the end of the meal, might work well. However, it seems to me from 1 Corinthians 10:1-11:34 and The Didache that early on the bread and cup ritual had acquired or was beginning to acquire its own separate setting and significance.

Closed, semi-closed or open?

One's practice will be related to what one views communion as being.
  • If one views communion as being similar to a covenant meal like the Passover, then one will likely restrict it to those who are in covenant with Jesus, however one so defines being a member of the household of faith. The tradition in The Didache has restricted communion in view. Also, Luke's account of the Last Supper seems to have Jesus making His covenant only with and for those who are at table with Him. (But as noted in my other post, the original wording of Luke's account is difficult to determine.)
  • Even if regarded as a covenant meal in which communion is restricted to those who have embraced Jesus and His New Covenant, thereby usually excluding non-believers and children who have not yet professed faith in Jesus and/or been baptized, Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 seem to me to allow for the participation of the unbelieving spouses and underage children of believers, should they wish to partake, and I believe Jewish custom was to include children in the covenant feasts and holy days (Jewish males, of course, became part of the covenant people from their 8th day when they were circumcised):
    12 I (not the Lord) say to the rest of you: If a brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and she is willing to live with him, he must not abandon (Or divorce) her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is an unbeliever and he is willing to live with her, she must not abandon (Or divorce) him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified because of her husband (Other mss. read (her/the) brother). Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. (ISV)
  • Some may wish to restrict communion because of the warning in 1 Corinthians 11:29:
    29 because whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That’s why so many of you are weak and sick and a considerable number are dying (Lit. are falling asleep). (ISV)
    However, commentators are divided (rightly so, in my opinion) on whether Paul is referring to their not recognizing that the bread and wine are really Christ's body and blood or at least some "special" kind of food and drink, or their not recognizing and treating all those assembled as fellow members of the one body of Christ, which was the basis of his harsh words to them in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (as well other parts of 1 Corinthians).
  • If one views communion as being an extension of Jesus' fellowship meals with followers, sinners, harlots, tax collectors, and any who wished to learn about or enter the Kingdom, or of His feeding of the multitudes, then it could be open to all who are present and wish to partake. Also, Matthew's and Mark's accounts of the Last Supper seem to differ from Luke's account in having Jesus making His covenant "for many."

Bread & wine/grape juice or not?

Must communion always be done with bread (whether leavened or unleavened) and wine or grape juice? What about crackers or pretzels or chips or tea or soda? What about people who live in countries where rice or another grain, or some kind of tuber or fruit, rather than wheat and grapes, is their "staple" food and source of fermented or juice beverage?

I don't know if I'll address this question in a future or amended post, or just leave it to you to answer it. :)

Who may officiate?

Must communion be officiated over by an ordained or appointed person - e.g., a priest, a pastor, an elder, a deacon, etc? Or may any person in the assembly bless and offer the bread and wine? How about women? Or children?

As with the previous question, I may address this in a future or amended post, or just leave it to you to answer it. :)

Real Presence, Presence, Symbol... Or What?

Do the bread and wine change into Jesus' Real Body and Blood? Is Jesus specially present at communion in a real but non-transubstantion way? Are the bread and wine simply symbols of Christ's body and blood?

As with the previous question, I may address this in a future or amended post, or just leave it to you to argue about it. :)

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