Thursday, February 25, 2010

missional sacraments part 1: unsafe rolls and cheese, catholic nuts..and a bath and meal for the homeless

It all started, not at a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California (see this, if you missed the reference), but at an 11, 000-foot high church in the Andes of Peru.

Our church family is gradually developing a new working theology (and eventual practice)
of (what many call) the "sacraments" as being far more organic and missional than we had ever bargained for.

Whatever ones view of "open" or "closed" communion, "fencing the table," infant baptism, etc. , it should be obvious that both traditional sacraments, though rites for "believers," are inherently evangelistic, as one assumes God desires everyone to eventually celebrate them.

Wesley adopted into Methodism from the Anglicanism he inherited the tradition of infant baptism (though I believe Howard Snyder suggests that if his placement in history were slightly different, he would have become far more anabaptist). He also believed that communion could be a "converting ordinance," and encouraged those desiring to accept Christ to do so as they partook.

So, Peru. 2005. The Hursts and I accompany Ken and Cathie Metz to a church with no bathrooms, in the middle of nowhere near Huancayo, Peru; a church planted by the indigenous peoples of Peru, the Quechua.

I have a great video clip of that day, but can't find it right now, so for now will link you to the clip of our trip there, the classic clip of our bus breaking down, and the unforgettable (probably) Quechua shepherdess we encountered when we got rolling again.

Several gracious Quechua pastors wanted to meet us, and prepared a deligthful meal for us following the worship service (By the way, still no bathrooms nearby....don't ask!). Ken, ever the incarnational missiologist and missionary, smiled widely and said to us gringos something like, "Hey guys, our hosts don't understand a word of English, so let me say this: this cheese on the bread may or may not be safe, but I think maybe we can trust God to protect our stomachs...and it is definitely impolite to refuse."

They insisted we receive second helpings....and thirds.

I have to admit by the fourth helping I resorted to a dirty old trick I learned in Mexico.
(see bottom photo and story here).

But those third helpings were offered in such love, as a token of Kingdom connection, that they were not only safe, but sacramental. I have never experienced such true communion.

I was reminded of the classic and hilarious article in which the Protestant Andrew Alder recalls dunking gingernuts, served informally by a Catholic nun...and found it Holy Communion.

Which in turn reminded me of a new sign we may post over any church "communion table" (see that here)

We are still not making the missional connection yet, as these stories involve a "dialed-down" and organic communion liturgy, yes, but still "in-house" among believers. If you pardon the cheap pun, what about the "out-house" (as in, pre-Christians who are not yet officially converted an in-house) potential of communion.

Let's park here on that first point for awhile, before we get to the missional question:

It is crucial to wrestle with Wolfgang Simson's Thesis #12:

"Rediscovering the "Lord's Supper" to be a real supper with real food: Church tradition has managed to "celebrate the Lord's Supper" in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the "Lord's Supper" was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.
Later in the same book:

Since it is quite difficult to feed a cathedral full of people real food, it (The Lord’s Supper) has degenerated into a religious and symbolic ritual, offering microscopic sips of wine and a small wafer, often only to the ‘clergy’ while the masses look on in pious amazement. This has meant that the Lord’s Supper is a supper no more, and lost its powerful meaning, the unprecedented, revolutionary reality, of a redeemed people, irrespective of classes and caste sharing real food with a prophetic meaning, having dinner with God, expecting His physical presence at any time.

William Barclay writes:' The celebration of the Lord’s Supper in a Christian home in the first century and in a cathedral in the twentieth century cannot be more different, they bear no relationship to each other whatsoever.'

C.S. Lewis, in 'Mere Christianity': ''There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why he uses material things like bread and wine to get the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.'


Years ago, I posted on our website that at our weekly "Love Feast," held at a local restaurant,
that we would meet for informal conversation and connection, and also" celebrate communion similarly to the way the early church did." I kept waiting for someone to ask, "Hey, when are we going to do communion? All we have done is talk, pray, and eat pancakes."

Not that I am suggesting a "This pancake is the body of Christ, broken for you" ritual, but our meals were sacred in a secular way, and social in a deeply sacramentally way.

So, to finally apply this missionally...or just biblically (:
Since the case can be made that missiology precedes and shapes ecclesiology (see part one here)...and therefore sacramentology as well...

Consider some striking quotes which may lead our flock to "serve communion" to the"non-Christian" homeless
(who of course, may well be Jesus in disguise).

First, from a previous post of mine:

Tucked away in Volume III of Oden's Systematic Theology, p. 274, is this:

"In acts of mercy to the homeless, the poor, and the alienated, the serving church offers simple acts of cleansing and feeding. Nothing is more prized to the homeless than a bath and a meal. Nothing is more characteristic of the church's identity and self-offering than bathing and feeding."

A good word, you say, but how is that news?

These three sentences introduce, not a section on social ministry, but (amazingly, without commentary on the radical retooling it entails), the section called
"Bath and Meal,"

which (of course) means:

baptism and communion!

How about that? "Sacrament" as an offering to the poor, and service to the homeless.

Or the other way around?

Peter Rollins:

"Christianity...would seem to demand that we be always prepared to betray our religious systems precisely so that holy water will never be detached from drinking water, and communion bread never be divorced from daily bread."
-Peter Rollins, "The Fidelity of Betrayal" p. 182
Eberhard Arnold on the whole "bath and meal" concept:

"At that time the holy nature of baptism and The Lord's Supper required no ecclesiastical forms. Outwardly, baptism was much more like a simple bath than a church rite, and the Lord's Supper much more like an ordinary meal." -Eberhard Arnold, "The Early Christians in Their Own Words," p. 8

We all come to the table (literally, many of us), and to this table-talk with theological perspectives...but since I assume we are all missional, for lack of a better word; and in favor of baths and meals for Jesus/the homeless..

Weigh in on the sacramental missionality of the Bath and Meal, without throwing out babies with bathwater, and without making the Love Feast a fast.

Especially liturgical folk.
Especially low-church saints.
Especially the homeless.
Especially Jesus.

It hit me that Brandt Russo, who voluntarily dumpster-dives with and for the homeless,
is a communion steward.



Emperor Arcadia, spit-laced chicken sandwich, and Free Road Food: Missional Sacraments part 2


  1. The term "communion" has seemed to me to be misused. The Scriptures never refer to the ritual as "Communion," but as "the Lord's Supper." Of course, it never says to do it any other time than at Passover (it's a part of the Passover ritual), either. I wonder if two things were merged by people with no Jewish background.

    BTW, I read something very interesting over the weekend. The term "the Lord's Supper" apparently long predates its use by Paul: it is tradition on the day of the Passover meal for the firstborn son of each family to fast in remembrance of the firstborn slain at the first Passover; the night before, apparently it was ancient tradition to have a feast, which was called... the Lord's Supper! Interestingly enough, this is the same time as the event we call today "The Last Supper," at which Jesus performed the Passover ritual and showed us the full meaning of the third cup (the "cup after the meal") and the afikoman (matzah taken after the meal right before the third cup).

    Interestingly enough, this statement "God is restoring eating back into our meeting" is another Jewish thing. It's ancient tradition to follow the synagogue service with a meal. TODAY, this is called "Oneg Shabbat" (Joy of the Sabbath), but that term actually was never used in that vein until the 20th Century, adopted from a Friday afternoon coffee-klatsch that the men of the community were doing in Israel as of the late 1940s and beyond. The meal after the service had two names: On the first, to quote from Wikipedia: "A seudat mitzvah (Hebrew: סעודת מצוה‎, "commanded meal"), in Judaism, is an obligatory festive meal, usually referring to the celebratory meal following the fulfillment of a mitzvah (commandment), such as a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a brit milah (ritual circumcision), or a siyum (completing a tractate of Talmud or Mishnah)." Since the Sabbath service is the fulfillment of a commandment, it applies. ("Seudat Mitzvah" can also be translated "Meal of the Commandment" or "Meal of the Good Deed.")

    The other is an ancient ritual meal eaten at the end of the Sabbath, a fourth meal (take that, Taco Bell!) of the Sabbath (Friday night dinner, Saturday breakfast, and Saturday lunch precedes). It is a legend that King David asked God when he would die, and God told him he'd die on a Sabbath. So, if by the end of each Sabbath, David didn't die, he had a feast to end the day. It is traditional to begin this meal by saying in Hebrew, "This is the meal of King David."

    "Communion" means "common unity," or "community." These are community meals.

  2. Great stuff, Adam.

    As usual, more comments on the Facebook version of this post than here... so I have responded to Adam over there

    Join us

  3. I am coming at this from an Anglican perspective, so my views of this are a little different.

    I think you are coming to an understanding of all of reality as sacramental.

    All of reality is shot through with the Divine Life. Matter is not opaque; what you see isn't all that is. Everything all matter/creation/life is an Icon. In Eastern Orthodox theology Icons are considered "windows to heaven."

    "To say that something is a window is to recognize both its “literal” presence as well as its “iconic” function. It provides both wall to enclose and yet reaches out to include. The world, I believe, when properly seen, does the same. There are occasional views of certain aspects of the world that make the most hardened, literal heart pause and recognize that something transcendent, or something which certainly hints at the transcendent has come into view."

    Now this does not in anyway denigrate the Sacraments. Rather this places them as the central way that God shares the Divine Life with us. They are just the most explicit means that God uses, but they shows the pattern of God's interaction with all of creation.

    These natural sacraments are by their very nature "converting sacraments"; of course they are not converting for those outside the People of God, but for us also.

  4. so well said Toni.

    I used to say all of life is sacramental, but "all reality" covers it better.

    FYI all: a related post from Toni here:

  5. I have a new blog called Faith and Love. You can find it here:

  6. Looks good, Toni!

    PS: I wrote a sequel to this post here


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!