Episode 444: The Communion Commotion

February 24, 2016


Featuring Matt Anderson and Ben De Bono

In this episode we examine Communion. We give an overview of the different views, discuss where they come from (in terms of scriptural aspects, but also as historical phenomenon, and developments of tradition).

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4 comments on “Episode 444: The Communion Commotion

  1. Jeremy Feb 25, 2016

    I very much enjoyed this episode. Communion is something that I’ve often felt I should take more seriously as a believer. I feel like I should take it more often. My church only takes communion once a month. In thinking about the logistics of this, my only issue with any of Ben’s points was when he told Matt that his opinion on the “who can give it” question doesn’t take the idea that the elements contain the actual presence (my position also) seriously enough. For me to take communion more often, it will mean doing so in my home as I don’t feel any pull to leave my church. I don’t see anywhere in scripture that would indicate that I can’t participate in communion with my family as the priest of my home. I don’t think that doing so would indicate that it’s not taken as seriously as if I were receiving it from a pastor especially when I’m doing it because I feel I should take the sacrament more seriously. Do you see my dilemma? Anyway, love the podcast. Thanks for the shout-out at the end. Seriously, Matt, if you pledge your eternal loyalty to the podcast, I’d blow my first One Day’s Wages gift out of the water (pun definitely intended)! How much do you care about the cause Matt?

  2. Good discussion, guys.

    Officially speaking, the PC(USA) teaches a theory of Real Presence (so, Ben, that does *not* take Matt or anyone “out of Protestantism altogether”), although we don’t locate his presence in the elements; rather, the Holy Spirit lifts communicants into the presence of Christ, who is in heaven, where we feed on and with him. This is very much like the “divine time travel” idea that Ben discusses.

    Ask most Presbyterians, though, and they’ll tell you it’s “just” a symbolic meal of remembrance (because we have done a bad job of educating our people).

    Of course, as Flannery O’Connor said, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” (i.e., if it’s “just symbolic” and all about us).

    And no less an intellect than “father of Presbyterianism” John Calvin — notorious for wanting to figure things out — said this of the Eucharist: “It is a mystery of Christ’s secret union with the devout which is by nature incomprehensible. If anybody should ask me how this communion takes place, I am not ashamed to confess that that is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it.” (I think this is why we have not gone accidents vs. substance… who can explain this miracle? We’re probably closer to the Eastern Orthodox here – although, again, I bet most Presbyterians don’t know it… or do, and don’t agree.)

    I can’t speak to what drives weekly communion in evangelical churches, but in Protestant liturgical churches I think it is driven by a greater appreciation of the unity of Word and Sacrament in worship. A service of Word only is, strictly speaking, incomplete, since the Sacrament seals the promises given in the Word. And, yes, the Eucharist is a means of grace – and, as you say, why should we reject that? We need all the grace we can get!

    All agreed that “communion keg parties” are beyond the pale, and that Kool-Aid is not appropriate — but a question about elements for Ben: You state that we should be using as close to possible as what Jesus used. Does canon law dictate what types of wine may be used? Jesus probably wasn’t using wine made from French or American grapes, for example. And (I don’t know) are the Host wafers already gluten-free and, if they are not, should a gluten-free alternative be provided? (Yes, it is a serious question, as I know folks for whom this is an issue.)

    Re: John 6…. The Fourth Gospel, of course, is the only one without a narrative in which Jesus institutes the Eucharist. So can that chapter be “reduced” to Communion, or might it also refer to other levels of meaning for “eating and drinking my flesh and blood”?

    Again, really good and fair discussion all around. I enjoyed it.

    • Ben De Bono Feb 26, 2016

      I was using the term Real Presence to refer to a belief where the elements literally are Christ’s body and blood. I wasn’t aware Presbyterians used the term Real Presence. In that case I should have used more specific terminology

      I’ve heard that argument about John’s Gospel a number of times. I don’t buy it for a number of reasons. 1. I’d argue that all four Gospels are full of Eucharistic narratives beyond the Last Supper (see our episode on Mark). In fact, the most theological meaty of those narratives are NOT the ones specific to the Last Supper. In a theological narrative (again, see the Mark episode) those moments hold just as much narratival weight as a literal LS narrative. In that sense John is chalk full of Eucharistic discussion. 2. John (or whoever) is writing in a post-Synoptic world with an awareness of the Synoptic content. I read the Gospel as having a conscious effort to avoid significant overlap. 3. I think it would be a major stretch to say that John 6 isn’t about the Eucharist. I’m not trying to reduce it to just that, but whatever else he’s discussing, his main point is the Eucharist

      Re Canon Law – I know that there are people who make communion wafers that contain little to no gluten and are in full according with the CCL regulations. I’m not sure of the specifics beyond that. For the wine, CCL 924 (pasted below) seems to indicate that it must be 100% made from grapes and not mixed with anything (save the small amount of water added during the Eucharistic prayers). Good questions!

      “The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. During the celebration itself, a small quantity of water is to be mixed with it. Great care should be taken so that the wine intended for the celebration of the Eucharist is well conserved and has not soured. It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.”

  3. This reminds me of the horror stories (horrifying even to protestants) that used to get passed around in the 70s about hippy churches experimenting with Eucharistic/Communion meals consisting of Coke and potato chips. It occurred to me just now that story might be an urban legend, but a little googling indicates there are people who recall participating in such obscenities, typically at youth meetings. Maybe it’s just me, but that kind of experimentation seems so pathetic and insecure, so desperate to remain “relevant”. Oy.

    (I was raised Plymouth Brethren–hardcore memorialist–and am now a Lutheran–practically Catholic–btw.)

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