Communion and Theology

Yesterday was World Communion Sunday. Our pastor preached on the nature of communion, and he almost got to the heart of things.  But like most people who’ve studied theology deeply, he may have missed the simplicity of the matter.  Theology considers the complexity of God, but the Spirit in us can perceive the simplicity, and, in the end, what is simple matters most.

The problem with theology is that it leads us away from our awareness of God and into our own understanding of God. We’re limited and imperfect beings, so that understanding is, by necessity, limited, partial, and imperfect.  That leaves a lot of room for disagreement.  Theological disagreements lead to conflict, to divisions, to schisms, and so on.  Little things become significant – what we call what went on yesterday, for example.  Is it communion?  The Eucharist?  The Lord’s Supper?

We can spend a great deal of thought and energy on such issues as how many sacraments there are and exactly what makes a particular ritual a sacrament. We can get into great conflicts over what happens in one of those sacraments – for example, is Jesus present in the bread and wine (or grape juice) of communion, or is the ritual simply symbolic?  And if he is present, just how is he present?  Do the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, the reality behind the accident of ordinary substance that we perceive?  Are we somehow lifted up to God’s presence in the sacrament?  Over the centuries, the Christian church has split and split again and split again and again over such disputes.  The same sort of thing can be said of every religion.

It seems to me that there is a simply reality that underlies all our different perceptions of the presence of Jesus in communion. And that simple reality seems to emanate from what we Christians call the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.  God is in everything, as everything is in God.  When we perceive the presence of God in some thing or some one, we are finding what is holy and we are finding what belongs to God.  I believe that that is the essence of the sacramental.

There’s yet another element in sacrament, though, and that is sharing. A sacrament is communal.  In it, we find God and receive God’s presence in community.  God may reveal God’s self to me in a personal epiphany, and I may tell others about that revelation, but they don’t experience it with me.  In a sacrament, we share a communal experience of the presence of God.  The elements of the sacrament – the bread and wine, in the case of communion – are the means by which God chooses to reveal to us the presence of God’s self in everything.

When I join in communion with those present in my church on World Communion Sunday, I’m also joining with everyone everywhere who shares communion at that time, but even more than that, I’m sharing the presence of God with everyone who perceives God, by any name and by any means. And I become aware that the God in me is connected to the God in everyone and everything.

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