Quoting one of their speakers, YC Newfoundland – a Youth Conference held this past weekend in my natal province, offered this gem on twitter. Coming from a Eucharistic and Sacramental Church, I found this to be just a little bit trite and slightly insulting. While I admit that I am quoting a tweet from a speech I did not hear, and do not know the full context, I am troubled by what it implies and was troubled by some of what followed in a FB chat with a FB friend about that quote. While I agree that communion involves more than the elements involved (For my tradition it is real bread and and wine in a common cup), I also hold that Jesus is fully present in to us in the sacrament.
Most troubling is the attempt at edginess – I know of no church that observes communion that uses cardboard – nor does Bradley Noel. What may be a cool tweetable sound bite, for Noel or some of those at YC Newfoundland is greatly disrespectful of Eucharistic communities. It speaks to the attitude that some from non-sacramental traditions hold about what we do and who we are.
When I take communion, I am making what Bradley Noel might call and Altar call. When I am gathered around The Table with my community and we are sharing the Biblical story of Jesus, we are engaged in communion. When we offer that gift of the presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the church to the weak, the vulnerable, and the broken, we are in communion with those that God has called us to be in communion with. ‘Eating together and talking about Jesus’ is precisely what happens on a Sunday Morning at my church with 120 friends, it happens on a Wednesday with a dozen friends, and it happens in the starkness of a locked hospital ward with a patient whom most have forgotten, it happens in the quietness of a home within minutes of a followers death. Healing occurs, Love is made real. Jesus is truly present. When we take communion at church it is more than a sign or a symbol – it is an act of faith. We declare that Jesus is present and commit to do what he has asked of us in baptism. It happens that when we take communion we share bread that some may call cardboard and wine that they can call a ‘shot.’ Those references however show a lack of respect and high degree of ignorance of the sacredness of the Sacrament of Jesus, instituted at the Last Supper.
The Holy Spirit is present when we break bread together. I believe that is very true, in many different circumsatnces. Indeed, when we eat together and discuss our faith and our God, we are in communion with one another. On that point, I could not agree more. It’s just a shame that Mr. Noel needed to take a swipe at Eucharistic traditions with is ‘smart’ but disrespectful comment. The YC events are an extention of a ministry in Alberta called Extreme Dream Ministries. Their webpage says that they are ‘promoting being a follower of Jesus Christ through powerful events, missions, and whatever creative means imaginable. Extreme Dream is committed to making much of Jesus and influencing the Church and society towards living life in the purposes of God.’ I guess that all good unless, one of creative means is through bread and wine. I cannot imagine being more creative than Jesus. Remember what he did? He took bread and wine and broke it with his friends and declared that it was his body, his blood of a new and eternal covenant. Hear how St Paul explains it the church in Corinth –
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
I will leave the last words to Henri Nouwen – (perhaps not a big influence in arena ministry, but certainly one of the greatest Christian Thinkers of the 20th Century)
Where is Jesus today? Jesus is where those who believe in him and express that belief in baptism and the Eucharist become one body. As long as we think about the body of believers as a group of people who share a common faith in Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus remains an inspirational historical figure. But when we realise that the body Jesus fashions in the Eucharist is his body, we can start to see what real presence is. Jesus, who is present in the gifts of his Body and Blood, becomes present in the body of believers that is formed by these gifts. We who receive the Body of Christ become the living Christ.
St. Augustine’s quote that the Body of Christ is not only on the Table but around the Table seems relevant to underscore in this context. It underscores the fact that the congregation is the primary and most important symbol of worship, and that the act of partaking in the Holy Communion confirms our understanding of that. The wonder bread and grape juice experience of my youth has been replaced by a rich understanding of the impact of the actions of Christ at the Last Supper. Perhaps it was an evolution in understanding in what it was all about… or a change in the celebration of communion. After reading Eugene Laverdiere: Dining in the Kingdom of God, I came to believe that the Eucharist (The Great Thanksgiving) is an essential element of how we come to know Christ. Frequent celebration of the Eucharist serves to remind me of the promise of Christ, what He gave for me, for us, and what I must strive to be like. As Laverdiere demonstrated through his recounting of the meals with Christ the Eucharist speaks to many dimensions and obligations of a life in Christ. Laverdiere notes that the meal illustrate the following challenges: “Metanoia” or the perpetual challenge of self-conversion; reconciliation; mission; ministry; purification; humility; sacrifice; and justice. The central meal described in the Gospels is the Last Supper. Believing in Christ and partaking in Holy Communion implies an acceptance of the challenge to become like Christ. One may either dine with God partaking in Eucharist and accepting its challenges and sacrifices, or chose not to dine with God – the thought of dining partially seems inconceivable in the context of the new covenant.
“Eating together and talking about Jesus is communion. A shot of grape juice and a piece of cardboard is not.” @Bradley_Noel #YCNL I actually agree. Fully participating in the Eucharistic celebration is a deep and faithful part of taking about Jesus and being nourished by consuming a blessed meal together. Consuming juice and a quick snack on the fly outside of a Christian understanding of the Last Supper is just that… a snack — Not the bread of life.
additional info at
(see Book of Alternative Services pg 177)
Thank you for the very thoughtful response Doug! You have well articulated much of what I believe. I fully agree with the comment that eating together and talking about Jesus is communion… Which is why I fully appreciate our weekly celebrations around the table at St. Aidan’s
Believing in Christ and partaking in Holy Communion implies an acceptance of the challenge to become like Christ. One may either dine with God partaking in Eucharist and accepting its challenges and sacrifices, or chose not to dine with God – the thought of dining partially seems inconceivable in the context of the new covenant……..I LOVE THIS.
In all fairness, a lot of churches do not use real bread and real wine. In fact, these wafers are much less palatable than the real, unleavened bread, and the “grape juice” is most definitely not the semblance of wine. Thus, it is challenging for us to minister to others what the significance of the bread and wine DOES mean to anyone, Christian or not. This is not by any means the most definitive answer, but the one most helpful to me, as taught by a Catholic minister of a Ukrainian Catholic Church named Father John; “it is the yet (what is known) and the not yet (what is unknown) happening simultaneously”. He asked me, “do you believe that Jesus is present each time you partake of the Eucharist”? To which I replied, “yes”. My journey in Christ since my early twenties has led me to various places of worship. I found each of them to have illuminated a little bit more of the Eucharistic mystery. It is unlike any other journey I’ve undertaken, and certainly unlike any studies I have undertaken at university. A commitment to a life in Christ at an early age is a daunting and formidable decision. The journey starts usually by a calling to be a disciple of Christ, or one of shepherding. It was the latter that invited me to the table one Easter evening by Rev. Fred Crook, God rest his soul. I learned much about the BCP from him, prior to the BAS. I thank him for shepherding me into Christ’s fold at a time when I needed comfort, compassion, and a place to humbly worship at the “poor man’s (peoples) church”. Today, it is still a thriving, growing and ever changing parish.
I rejoice that I am part of a Christian community in which this level of discourse exists. Such richly expressed understandings of the living heart of our Christian faith. Thank you.
When I share in the Eucharistic meal, in that moment, in that exact place, in that brief breath, as close as I can come to the eternal heartbeat, to Christ – a transitory place of Grace – I am one with the One.
That cheeky chappie, Bradley Noel, is young and the young must find their way. When he outgrows “cardboard and juice”, he will be ready to journey deeper into the richness of the faith – that is why it is so essential that worshipping communities like St. Aidan’s hold true – to be present when the Bradleys of the world hunger for the great feast of celebration!