Home > Christianity, Church, Jesus, Liturgy, Quakers, Sacrament > Dip, Sip, Drink, Think…Commune

Dip, Sip, Drink, Think…Commune

I grew up in the Quaker church – you know, the kind that never practiced an outward symbol like communion or baptism, confirmation or speaking in tongues.

It was a Quaker church, after all. And everyone knows that the Quaker liturgy is no liturgical rites expressed in outward forms. Everything good contains the presence of God, so why limit it to a couple of frequently (or infrequently) practiced, rote exercises?

Then, during my 20s, I married an Episcopalian, moved across the country, and ended up regularly attending two different liturgical services over 10 years. Talk about a change! Both churches I went to practiced weekly communion and frequent baptisms. All three of my children were baptized while we attended these churches, and I participated in communion every time it was offered.

So when we returned to the Northwest, and to the Quaker church I grew up in, I knew I was going to miss the symbolism and communal experience of people moving forward forward, in one great line, to partake in an experience that confirmed to everyone  a desire to be reminded of the fullness received when we commit our lives to Christ.

Yet those church experiences also seemed to be missing the very thing that George Fox and Quaker meetings in general did well, at least in my experience – that is, recognizing the immediacy of Christ in all things, not just in special ceremonies done inside church walls.

This was perhaps most evident in what is called “fencing the table.” Essentially, each communion service was initiated by warning people who might partake in it that if they were not baptized, or were not committed followers of Christ, they would be condemning themselves by eating the bread and drinking the wine.

I can still remember the first time I heard this explained in the church – and the confusion that crept so silently into my very bones – wasn’t Christ’s blood and body shed for all? Wasn’t it an invitation to life, not a warning that one could, nay, would be condemned for experiencing Christ with the wrong motivations?

This warning was too much for me – more of a power play than an invitation to a great feast served in honor of all, for all, and even though I miss the experience of communion, I do not miss the practice of fencing the table.

Christ is for all, can be experienced by all, and must be offered to all – no matter the motivations (known and unknown) we bring into any experience.

Christ does not need us to stand up for him; Christ does not need us to protect him. Christ needs only for us to offer all of who we are and all of who we know him to be – and then allow the Spirit to usher all who are ready into the presence of Christ, wherever and however that may look.

In my next post I’ll share two stories of how this happened for me during this past week.

How have you experienced Christ lately? Have you ever felt fenced off from experiencing Christ? How did you respond?

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  1. June 27, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    Hi Jamie,

    Very interesting. I understand the idea of “fencing.” The point is that why should anyone partake of the broken body of the Lord if they have never committed their lives to Him? As far as the not so good outcomes spoken of by Paul, it is not necessarily due to sin in a person’s life, or maybe “sinful tendencies,” but a lack of complete reverence and respect for Him. It is impossible to fully reverence God if one refuses to share in His life. Thank you for this insightful post.

    RJ

    • June 27, 2011 at 10:53 AM

      RJ,

      Thanks for your comment. And I agree with you – my question is this: is someone really going to partake of the Lord’s Supper if they lack a complete reverence and respect for Christ? That’s what always got me – perhaps there were people in church who were there to gather dirt to be thrown back into the face of the church, the pastor, or Christianity in general. But my assumption was always that if someone was going to come forward, they were doing so out of need, not out of spite or derision. And if they were coming forward out of derision, Christ would know, and therefore the pastor wouldn’t need to speak words of judgment on them, right? Just pray that their heart would be softened. I wonder what it would be like if instead of fencing it, we said: “And just so you know, if you come an partake of this bread and wine, we will be praying that your heart is softened to the glorious riches of Christ being offered you right now, in this place, no matter who you are or where you have been. Don’t come if you don’t want that prayer spoken for you.”

      I appreciate your interaction with this!

  2. June 27, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Excellent point. It seems the heart of religious Christians is toward exclusivity, while the Lord is more concerned about giving invitations to all. Perhaps those who violated proper reverence toward the Lord as per Paul’s example were not so “borderline” in their approach but complete dunderheads. Praise the Lord Jesus for His open invitation to all of us regardless of our imperfect condition. I think instead of exclusion, we should put the emphasis on what should be our tremendous reverence for Him, then allow people to do their own choosing, as you have wisely pointed out.

  3. LKP
    June 27, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Really well written, and very thoughtful, Jamie. I think I wrestled with similar issues – but in the context of non-denominational worship vs. liturgical worship. What I have learned (well, keep learning) is that God makes himself available through any form of worship, if we are open to see Him. What is new and grounding and beautiful to me in the Anglican church is old and rote and impersonal to friends of mine. I am so grateful the Lord makes himself known to each of us in a way that we understand at each point in our lives. And also so glad to see you blogging!

    • June 29, 2011 at 10:05 AM

      Thanks for your encouragement, Lauren! Coming from you means a lot. Our church choice is so often a personality preference – depending on so many factors, but most of all on what speaks most deeply to where we are. While I’m tired of the consumer approach to church, I believe deeply in digging roots into a place that has the ability to resonate with your soul – with the acknowledgement that when it seems dry does not necessarily mean we bolt. I appreciate your commitment to the universal church!

  4. Bob Hampton
    June 27, 2011 at 8:58 PM

    Jamie, it’s good for us to wrestle with what God wants of us and to seek His Word to each of us. None of us will build a fence strong enough to keep others away from God since He is the One who breaks them down. I look at the parable Jesus told in Matt 22 about those who were invited to the wedding feast but wouldn’t come and who were “replaced” by both evil and good wedding guests who were invited off the streets. It bothered me to read how they were invited but when were found without wedding clothes, were cast out into the outer darkness, “for many are called but few are chosen”. It is not for me to decide if you have proper wedding clothes but in my heart I know if I have proper wedding clothes or not. What you have termed fencing the table, is to me a reminder that I am invited, both evil or good, but if I want to be a part of the wedding, I need the clothes He offers from His very own wardrobe.

  5. June 27, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Ah the doctrinal nuances of different sects. The American Baptist church where I grew up always proclaimed Communion the Lord’s table, not man’s to invite or deny. I cannot remember any conditions ever spoken but I do remember some kind of generalized prayer.

  6. June 28, 2011 at 5:12 AM

    Many churches do not “fence the table.” Mine welcomes everyone. There can be a richness to the sharing of the bread and the cup if done with meaning and not in a rote fashion. And it need not be in contradiction to being open to all receiving Christ in the worship.

  7. June 29, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    I have seen churches with altar rails, an ornamental fence, but the real barrier lies in people’s minds and hearts. When I married my first husband in a Lutheran church, at a meeting about the wedding beforehand, the pastor, new from anoher state, objected when we said we wanted to have Communion. Why would we want that? Um, as the first thing we did as a married couple, a precious thing to share with those we love. “Oh, well, you know that only those in our church’s good standing may come and kneel down to receive,” he said sternly. My fiance looked him in the eye and asked, “What about my grandmother, who’s being let out of the hospital in a wheelchair, just to see us married?” (She died 12 days later) and I added, “No Communion available to whomever wants to partake, no wedding.” He caved in–but we made sure to tell our friends that ALL were invited by us ahead of time. One closeted friend told me years later when he came out that he felt that inclusion was the beginning of his soul’s journey. He had chosen not to, but it gave him hope that God accepted him as he was.
    Later I taught in a Catholic girls’ school; 1st Monday Mass was mandatory–but as the only non-Catholic lay teacher, i was not permitted to receive as per the bishop’s decree in that diocese. And main-line churches complain about declining membership….it’s not only about being accepted as part of an exclusive group, but being part of an inclusive group that truly strives to follow God’s message. if the Bible boils down to loving God and loving others as yourself, how can you square fencing in and fencing out?

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