I perplex myself a bit. I used to find liturgy deeply moving: the sense of holiness, the way the rituals and traditions of worship stretched my mind toward the transcendent. I still find I am seldom unmoved by the experience of receiving Communion. And yet as I ponder the future of the church and what I hope for in the future, liturgy rarely enters my mind.
Perhaps this is because part of the value of liturgy is connecting us with the past. The traditions of worship connect us to those who have gone before and spoken similar words. I value tradition and the saints who have gone before. There is undoubtedly wisdom to be gained there. However, much of our tradition is steeped in patriarchy, crafted to support the status quo, and wrapped around orthodox theology with its orthodoxy often founded upon the blood of those who committed the capital offense of disagreeing with the “in crowd.”
I don’t so much want to be connected with that.
And lest anyone think the problem is the liturgy itself, let me point out I can attend most any Christian church service in any denomination and have little trouble navigating the worship. There are a few differences between liturgical and non-liturgical traditions but it mostly boils down to clothing and how many songs we sing more than one Sunday in a row. So, I guess what I am talking about is the structure of Christian worship, at least in the United States, whether devoid of vestments or encompassed by clouds of incense.
Yet, I don’t want to throw it all out either. I do still find meaning in some of it such as partaking of bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus.
I did a little research into the history of Communion, the history of the Last Supper, and the history of dining together and toasting one another. There is much controversy over all of this, of course. But what emerged for me was this: people of varying religions, varying time periods, have found deep meaning in gathering around food and drink. Sometimes this meaning was expressed by raising a glass with particular words or sharing in one loaf of bread or one vessel of beverage. Somehow the act of sharing a meal touches upon the profundity of our connectedness. Sharing in elements which are essential to our survival calls forth our shared vulnerability and our shared blessedness. When this is done in the name of a particular person or event we bring to mind that person’s continued influence over us and recall that person to us in some way.
It may sound as though I am reducing the sacrament of Communion to merely symbolic. Rather I am trying to draw us deeper into an understanding of Communion and the life of Jesus in the context of the deep mystery of human existence, the wonder of human connectedness, the richness of human dependence upon all of creation, the interconnectedness woven into our existence in ways beyond our comprehension. These are the things which Jesus calls upon when he calls us to love one another, to trust in the power of love and the rich meaning to be found in this life and beyond.
So, perhaps we could loosen our grip on tradition enough to make space for gathering around table and raising our glass to the earth which sustains us, to the people whose labor brings us our food, and to the very gift of life. Around that same table, then, to enjoy food and conversation, sharing our lives with each other, our worries, our hopes, our wisdom and folly about things which matter. And after such sharing to raise our glass again to remember one who showed us, in his life and death, that our connectedness is based on the preciousness of every being and transcendence is to be found in service to one another. Then looking in the eye of each member of the table we raise our glass to toast the love we have to give which trumps fleeting emotion and to renew our commitment to serve one another around the table and around the world.
That sounds like Communion to me.