I got back to my Presbyterian church for our second service, but nobody there served me Communion because it wasn’t the first Sunday of the month.
At my church we preach the Gospel only in a left-brained way, with a sermon, on all Sundays in each month but one. The right-brained way, through the Eucharistic sacrament, gets shelved.
What are we thinking? We Presbyterians are “Real Presence” people. Many of us know how meaningful Communion is, how it’s a means of grace, how the body and blood of Christ nourish us, how Communion connects us to all the saints, living and dead, how it’s a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet to come.
And yet most PC(USA) churches are stingy with this gift. why?
John Calvin didn’t understand this stinginess, either. But he lost the battle for weekly Communion in Geneva. As Gordon Mikoski, assistant professor of Christian education at Princeton Theological Seminary, tells me, “In opposition to Calvin’s view, the Genevans enacted a pattern of Communion four times a year: Christmas Day, Easter Day, Pentecost, and once in September. So much for the ‘Calvin was a dictator’ theory.
“Ironically,” Mikoski adds, “Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are usually days that most Presbyterians today will not celebrate Communion. It makes the service too long and/or it jams up the parking lot between services.”
Ah, yes, a preference for the theologies of clock-watching and parking versus a theology of soteriology.
I don’t want to take away from the importance we Presbyterians attach to the preached word. One of our confessions calls it in fact the word of God. Indeed, we should make sure preachers have more preparation time than most have now so they can exegete the Scriptures and unpack their meaning for our time and place.
But both our standard Presbyterian worship and most Anglican and Catholic worship are out of balance — ours because we fail to celebrate Communion weekly and theirs because they often short-change the sermon. Indeed, an Episcopal friend of mine swears he once attended a seminar called, “What — If Anything — Is Anglican Preaching?”
People learn in different ways. I tend to be a left-brained learner. Lectures, readings, sermons — that’s what I need. Yet when I take Communion I realize that this right-brained way of preaching the Gospel nourishes me and challenges me in ways that left-brained ways don’t and, in fact, can’t.
Yes, any repetitive act can become rote and meaningless. — including sermons. But that’s no reason not to try to engage all our senses, all our portals when we worship God.
Suppose we read the words to hymns aloud with no instruments or singing voices. That’s sort of what we’re doing when we offer congregants only a sermon and no sacrament.
Some years ago I corresponded with the (now late) Walter R. Bouman of Trinity Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, about the meaning of Communion, and he told me something I hope never to forget:
Jesus, he said, “comes to us from the future with the power of the future. The Eucharist is anticipation of the final messianic banquet. Jesus is present as his self-offering, to enable the offering of ourselves in service to the Kingdom of God. I think this is how to understand Calvin’s ‘Real Presence’ as ‘spiritual presence’ … I think this also is how to understand Luther’s confession of the ‘Real Presence’ and also how to understand the Roman Catholic doctrine.”
But Presbyterians generally don’t even offer that channel of grace most Sundays. It makes me weep.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at http://billtammeus.typepad.com. E-mail him at [email protected].