Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Poisoned Cup?


Recently the swine flu (okay, you know what they want you to call it but...) has been in the news again. The great concern for the future is that this flu strain may come back in greater fury than we knew months ago. In the face of this threat, some churches are putting together protocols for dealing with a possible pandemic. Some of the attention has been turned to what to do with Holy Communion.

The Church of England has responded with the suggestion that the Church remove the chalice from the distribution of the Sacrament. Millie Hemingway in GetReligion addressed this and so did her LCMS Pastor in a column on his blog. Since I know I will get (and have gotten) questions about this, I am making a preemptive strike here.

[If this is not a concern of yours, you are free to skip this post and stop reading.]

First of all, studies have shown that there is virtually no danger of any transmission of disease through the chalice. Tests have been done on the chalice before, during, and after Holy Communion and the results are clear -- we have nothing to fear.

Second, if you do have a concern about the transmission of disease, you ought to be concerned not about the chalice but about YOUR hands. This is the great passenger ferry through which infection and infectious disease travels. Every Sunday I disappear into the Sacristy during the offering and wash my hands. I know my hands are clean when I distribute the Body of the Lord to you -- are you so sure? In fact many are suggesting that receiving the host directly in the mouth and not in the hand is the better practice if you have fears in this area.

Third, a little personal experience is relevant. For more than 30 years I have been the LAST one to receive from the cup, consuming all that remains in that cup at the end of every service of Holy Communion (generally twice a Sunday). In that time I have never missed a service due to illness (one mid-week service I missed due to a back problem but that is it). If there were anything to be concerned about, don't you think I would have fallen victim to it -- after all I consume what remains in the cup after some 100-125 people have received from it every week!

Fourth, and most importantly, is the question of whether or not God would endanger us His children by His gift of this Cup? Remember that those little glasses did not come about until early in the 1940s when the temperance movement and Welch's grape juice had left most Protestant churches without wine in the cup of the Lord. So for most of Christian history, God's people have gathered around one cup of His blood just as they received the one bread which is His Body.

In practical terms, this is a faith question -- would God endanger us His people by His gift of this Sacrament? YOU answer that question. I will leave you with the answer from hymn writer Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708) who wrote:

What God ordains is always good:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my physician sends me. (LSB 760:3)

There is no poison in this cup. None at all. You may have fears, but God has grace sufficient and power greater than our every enemy... here on earth and forevermore... and His grace comes to us in the Cup where His power to address sin, nourish faith, impart fellowship, and offer eternal life is given and offered to all who commune.

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