Wednesday, October 17, 2007

holy communion?

On Saturday night I was invited by my friend Dahamane (to the right of me) to their end-of-Ramadan feast. It's always a joy to learn from and talk with my Muslim friends around great food, a cultural invitation, that I don't often get to engage in. I'm in the company of newfound friends from Yemen, Cameroon, Mali, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. It was one of those special evenings where, as you sit and listen, you feel...well, holy, a 'set apart' time, to cross the boundaries of cultures and religions for the sake of acknowledging that we are, all of us, held by God, that God has come all too close to us, united us in him in a strange way we may never completely understand.

So...for all intents and purposes we could go around and articulate, through our various doctrines, how we have come to hold God and realize that there may be some differences, but the reality is we are created in God's image for the sake of reflecting his love and life to the world. Was this meal holy communion? It certainly was a 'set apart' event, a communion feast, a meal where the alien outsider (me) was invited to the table. Not in the same way theologically that many have come to speak of...or is it? This meal was not consecrated in the name of Christ by whose very death the fear of death has been vanquished forever and in whose resurrection presence we celebrate until he comes again (whatever that means). Could we say that Christ was present? Could we say that the Christ who died to reconcile people one to another was present incarnationally embodying that very belief in the way we shared a meal with one another? Would it be true that this is the very kind of community that Jesus came to constitute through his very death on and resurrection from the cross? The very hope into which God's future is unfolding?

For me, the evening was an expression of my new, favorite phrase I've come to enjoy from my new mentor Miroslav Volf: this night was an experience of the "anticipated eschatological community of God."


isipwater said...

Hey Dave,

I just skimmed the "Common Word Between Us and You" letter.

The modern church way of thinking might claim that only one religion can have/be the source of truth.

The emerging way tells us that perhaps truth can be shared between Christians and Muslims.

I can see how the modern church might be threatened by accepting that the two greatest Christian commandments are shared by our Muslim brothers.

It might mean that Christians have to change their attitudes and perceptions toward Muslims because at the core of our faiths we have more in common than we have differences.

Do you sense an emerging flavor in the "Common Word Between Us and You"

Lars said...


I'm worried that what you're proposing here is the sort of relativistic-feel good line I've heard many times: "can't Christians and Muslims just all get along? It's really all the same God anyways?" I know that one of the consistent criticisms of the emerging church is that it's relativistic and universalist - seeing God in so many ways and places as to never put its foot down on anything.

The differences between Jesus and Mohammed are big, deep, fundamental, and mutually exclusive. One need only start by comparing their views on war, violence, and the treatment of women. On a one-to-one level, we can get along with anyone. To say after a meal that it's all one big religion, that communion can be communion with people whose religious text says explicitly that Jesus is not God, and people who say so are blasphemers, is an incredible stretch.

I hope I'm reading you wrong, that what we're really talking about here is how we relate as people, not some attempt at synchetism, unversalism, or relativism.

dave said...

well hello there my orthodox friend. nothing like a doctrinal nazi to keep me in line. yep, i'm not talking syncretistically at all, just wondering about the embodiment of the reconciling commitment that we proclaim. i just find it rather interesting that communion fellowship can include the holy, even if it isn't the 'hocus-pocus' magic that happens when the faithful gather and god just happens to show up. now, i know the theology of the faith that receives god's promise in his determined presence at eucharist.
but i don't think i'm reducing the captilized Holy Communion notion, like maybe the catholic with a small "c", notion of how the presence of God sends us out to allow others to penetrate us in such a way, that we can even celebrate the presence of God in and through people of other faiths. is it a heresy to believe that God is Jesus but that God is more than Jesus?

love to get your comments on my paper i posted for my dmin.

Lars said...

A doctrinal nazi. I love it. Does this mean that I can deny you good doctrine from my shop if you don't talk to me nicely:)

I think there's a distinction that would clarify a lot. I don't see why a gathering where we (as believers) are acting like Christ to others, sharing in fellowship and love, is not in some way a holy moment, and that God is not present.

But communion, proper, the sacrament, is something different. Jesus celebrated it only with his little cadre of disciples. It was the celebration of a uniquely Jewish holiday (Passover), with a bunch of Jews. There were no other religions present. There was something special, unique, about the bond there that made it different from just any meal between people who are nice to each other.

Mohammed went to great lengths to coopt Christian and Jewish symbols to lend his new religion credibility, to argue that he wasn't making it up - just correcting all the things the Christians and Jews got wrong. But, the fact that he took these things, everything down to the name of Jesus and the temple mount, does not make it the same as Christianity.

Is God more than Jesus? I would say, myself, only insofar as whatever the "else" is, it does not contradict Jesus, or go against his teachings. After reading the Koran in full, I cannot make that claim. There are too many contradictions.

dave said...

good thoughts lars. just another question...what's at stake in this appropriate answer for you/us?

getting the answer right, theologically? viewing/practicing holy communion in the correct way? understanding it correctly because of what it says about God?

Lars said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lars said...

I'm a little bit of an old-school thinker when it comes to issues of truth. I know that for so much of post-modernism "truth" is the cause of all bad things in the world, and that everyone would get along better if nobody believed that anything they believed in had any objective truth. If everything's only "true for me", so the thinking goes, then we won't fight over it.

I would argue, we also won't act on it, and it won't have any positive effect on us either. Relative truth does not change lives, it does not force us to think, to ask hard questions, to ponder contradictions in search of something more. Relative truth lets me gloss over every hard question, and answer it simply with, "oh well, that may no be what I believe, but it's true for you."

The question of what's at stake is a good one, because it really asks the question of what difference it makes to have any bounds, limits, things that we are willing to say are outside the truth, or even outside of our practice.

If communion, say, can happen anywhere any group of believers of any religion eat together and are nice to each other, then it makes communion into, basically, any meal that's not eaten by atheists. It becomes everything, which makes it nothing. Tillich was the one who said that in order to be something, you have to not be something else.

Communion looses its power to forgive sins, change lives, bring us closer to God if it's celebrated in a context where we can't even agree on the very basics of who God is or what God teaches. We can't know the saving power of the Son of God, if we can't even agree that he is the Son of God.

On the other hand, where I take a more open position, is that I don't think we do enough sharing in fellowship and meals with people who are not Christian. Isolating ourselves and cutting off relationships is not Jesus' way, but is the opposite of his example.

So, we should do more eating with Muslims. It is God's will. We should extend every hospitality and show every bit of kindness. It is not the sacrament of holy communion, but it is Jesus' way.