Friday, December 26, 2014

Good words on Eucharistic hospitality. . .

ELCA liturgical theologian Frank Senn, always an interesting author, has laid down the challenge for those within the ELCA who are leaning toward a radical Eucharistic hospitality in which any and all may commune (including those not baptized).  It is claimed that such inclusivity is a radical Gospel imperative and bases it upon the Scriptural accounts of Jesus' feeding the masses.  The only problem is that the Eucharist, while hinted at in these miracles of loaves and fish, was instituted within the most closed community of the twelve in the Upper Room.

Anyway, I appreciate Senn's instructive commentary on the history of fencing the altar (especially since I was only recently grilled by someone who labeled me as one of those kind of Lutherans who refused to communion his family (Methodist).  You read what he says and see if it is not well written and challenging to those in any denomination who would disassociate communion hospitality with doctrine and discipline.  The whole thing is here.  Snippets are reprinted below.

Never in the history of the Church has the sacrament of the altar been made available to everybody and anybody. I will reflect on the biblical and theological rationale for radical hospitality and give my assessment of the arguments. But first I think it is important to check out the history of fencing the table—of excluding certain people from the Lord’s Supper.

The earliest teachings on the Lord’s Supper are in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and the very first instruction in that letter is about fencing the table. In chapter 5 Paul deals with the case of a member of the congregation who is sleeping with his father’s wife and no discipline has been applied. Since the congregation has not acted Paul pronounces judgment and imposes a ban. In a previous letter Paul had told the congregation not to associate with such an immoral person. Now he adds, “Do not even eat with such a one.” Since the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the context of an actual community banquet, this is excommunication. This is also the context in which Paul says, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (Paul 5:8)
Sharing the bread-body of Christ and the cup-blood of Christ unifies the many members of the one body. There is a connection between the sacramental body and the ecclesial body. We who drink from the same cup and eat of the one loaf are one body in Christ (See 1 Corinthians 10:16-17).The issue in chapter 11 is that worldly social divisions are being maintained at the Lord’s Supper. So what ought to be the sacrament of unity has become the source of disunity. The congregation is not discerning the body. “Body” here clearly refers to the interconnection between the Eucharist and the Church. Failure of discernment brings judgment on the church. “For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (11:30). There is an area of taboo surrounding the Lord’s Supper precisely because of the presence of Christ whose coming in the sacrament as well as on the last day brings judgment. It is not unlike the zone of holiness that surrounded Mt. Sinai when Yahweh was present (Exodus 19). This situation of sacramental malpractice is the context in which Paul recites the institution narrative (11:23-25).
The restriction of Eucharistic fellowship to the baptized is ancient. The oldest Christian catechism at the end of the first century says, “You must not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who are baptized in the Lord’s Name” (Didache 9:5). Justin Martyr reports to the Roman Senate, ca. 150 AD that no one is allowed to partake of “the food we call Eucharist” except one who “believes that the things we teach are true, and has been washed with the washing that is for the forgiveness of sins and rebirth, and is living as Christ enjoined” (First Apology 66). The Apostolic Tradition attributed to Hippolytus of Rome (ca. early third century) not only excludes the unbaptized (catechumens) from the Eucharist; they are also excluded from the offering and the kiss of peace (“their kiss is not yet pure”). In the liturgies that developed after the fourth century the catechumens were dismissed after the liturgy of the Word (which came to be called “the liturgy of the catechumens”). The kiss of peace and offertory marked the transition to “the liturgy of the faithful.” The communion table continued to be fenced off, especially in the Eastern liturgies, with the invitation/admonition “Holy things for the holy people.” One becomes holy—a person is dedicated to God—in Holy Baptism. In the ritual process of Christian initiation, Baptism leads to the Eucharistic Meal. Holy Communion is actually the goal of Christian initiation. One is not fully a member of the church until one receives first communion.
Werner Elert, in Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (1954; English trans. 1966), shows how the Eucharist came to define church fellowship. Local churches were in fellowship with other local churches if their bishops were in fellowship. If the bishops excommunicated each other (for example, as the bishops of Rome and Asia Minor did during the second century because of disagreement over the dating of Easter—a schism later resolved by Irenaeus of Lyons), their churches were out of fellowship. Individual Christians traveling throughout the Roman world brought letters from their bishop requesting admission to the Eucharist in the churches they visited on the travels. The idea that the unity of the local church is expressed in the bishop’s Eucharist is as old as Ignatius of Antioch (110-115 AD). Receiving Communion in the Catholic Church even today means that the communicant is in communion with the local bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome. The same Eucharistic ecclesiology is practiced in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

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