thinking about The Table

Awhile back Coart and I were acquainted with a guy who studied at the Reformed Episcopal seminary in Texas. He was an interesting fellow, brimming with ideas about music, art, theology, philosophy which shook the little pillars of my worldview. I haven’t heard from him in quite a while; we need to track him down.

Anyway, since meeting Mark, we’ve been curious about the REC. I don’t know much about the denomination other than it’s been around more than 100 years. They’re Calvinist Episcopalians. (If you remember your Anglican history, you’ll recall that the Church of England adopted Arminius’s view of salvation and theology in the 1600s, offering yet another reason for the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell to view the Anglican church with disfavor.)

Being the curious folks that we are, we tracked down a congregation while on vacation in Phoenix and visited their Eucharist service last evening.

There’s not a whole lot to tell about the service itself; we worked our way through a long liturgy that included candles, vestments, and many Scripture readings (which are chanted instead of read). The rector’s sermon was what one expects from an evangelical pastor, with perhaps a bit more historical theology thrown in (a brief discussion of Trinitarian heresies). The small group of believers were very friendly.

But what stood out to me most was the Eucharist itself.

EucharistAfter so many years in conservative Protestant circles, I find myself longing for something “more” in worship practice, especially at the Lord’s Table.

Our fear of Catholic transubstantiation has led us to evacuate Communion from any real meaning in our lives …. other than, perhaps, an excuse for a guilt trip once a month for our inherent sinfulness. If your mom welcomed you to Christmas Dinner each year with a review of your recent failures, I doubt you’d get much pleasure out of the meal. No wonder many Christians stay home on Communion Sunday. 

NCC is the first church I’ve ever attended that treats the Lord’s Supper as a celebration instead of a judgment. Even Mt Calvary, whose silent meal followed by soulful singing, was far more focused on judging yourself for sin instead of on the Grace of Christ which frees us from that sin.

I think the Lord’s Supper does impart grace to the taker. Now I’m not talking about “saving grace (ie: I don’t think taking communion saves you). But in another sense, the grace is salvific — if we recognize that salvation is a process and not a point in time. The Gospel which translates me from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1) is the same Gospel which works itself out over a lifetime of sanctification and miraculous transformation from sinner to “new creation.”

I think that kind of Grace is imparted to us at the Table. This sacrament of the Church (it seems to me) must be more than a simple memorial of past events.

An illustration: Protestant views of Communion seem to treat the event like a visit to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: A really meaningful opportunity to increase my appreciation for America’s veterans who sacrificed themselves for Freedom.

But let’s be honest. I might miss something by never seeing the changing of the guard at Arlington (I haven’t), but that doesn’t mean I can’t come to a deep and real appreciation for the military’s sacrifice. Basically, I can take it or leave it. Should I never pass by Arlington again, I will die a complete and “total” American.

I have a hard time treating the Lord’s Supper like a mere memorial with no real affect on the believer who partakes of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  …. There’s something wrong with that picture….There must be something more.

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