I was at a board meeting for the Reading/Berks Conference of Churches, and was chatting with two Catholic priests over coffee as we waited for the rest of the group to join us. Somehow – I have no recollection how – the topic of the Sacraments came up, and I voiced my complaint about being barred from the Communion Table, and how much that hurt not only me, but ecumenical relations. They tried to explain the reasons to me, and I told them that I understood why they were saying this, but that their explanation was far from the gift of the Lord’s Supper the night before He died. I asked them how they could hold this stance when Jesus gave His betrayers – especially Judas – what would become the most sacred aspect of the church – and yet I was not welcome. They had no answer.
The purpose of the church is to lift up the sacred in the form of its Rites and Sacraments of the church. One of the main differences between Catholic and Protestant sacramental theology is that Catholics have 7 and Protestants have 2. For Protestants, we chose Baptism and the Eucharist because they are things Jesus Himself did, while the other 5 He did not. The other 5 we consider to be Rites of the Church, and they are extremely important as well. As an ordained clergy person, it is my responsibility to oversee, administer, teach about, and be the guardian of these Rites and Sacraments. I don’t own them, and I am not able to bar people from them – but I am responsible for them. Sacraments are God’s gift, not mine. That matters.
We have seen the withholding of Communion used as a weapon – this attempt to keep Pres. Biden from receiving the Eucharist has been tried before. The Protestant Rite of Confirmation was, for centuries, reserved for children who reached a certain age (12-13 years old) and could answer questions about faith that their elders posed to them. These questions have changed, but the intent is the same: you have to know enough to deserve membership in the church. You have to be worthy. If you aren’t confirmed, you can’t take communion. I believe these restrictions are wrong. Here is why.
Rites and Sacraments have always, in my mind, been about inclusion and God’s love. I have used this argument ad nauseum: if receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion is based on how much one knows about it, then do we bar intellectually challenged people? Do we prohibit people with dementia? Do we tell new Christians that they aren’t good enough, so they need to take a 2-year course? I would not agree to these restrictions. None of us knows enough about what God’s Rites and Sacraments mean, and the expectation that we do is, in fact, the very essence of legalism. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t education people in the faith – that was my thought yesterday. What I do mean is that we have made following Jesus so complicated and convoluted that we have forgotten the He Himself invited people to follow Him with no classes, no age limitations, and no gender, sex, or race restrictions. I see my role as guardian in this way – I need to protect these Rites and Sacraments from being misused by the church. If they are God’s gifts of grace, it is not my role to judge if others are worthy. We are all made worthy as children of God created in God’s image. That should be enough for us, because I believe it is enough for God.
Prayer – Help us to be mindful of our ability to be judgmental, especially when we think we are doing the right thing. We might not be. Amen.
Today’s art is from a website called “Light of Truth”. I could not find any attribution about the artist.