Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lord's Supper sans supper: a skeleton outside of real life, kissing grandma under a half-built bridge

Charles Kraft:

The Lord's Supper [is] probably the most potentially meaningful of the codes regularly employed within Christianity, at least when it is practiced as a full meal.

When, however, the Lord's Supper is practiced (as in most of Western Christianity) as  a skeleton ritual with precious little resemblance  to a participatory meal  (or to any other part of real life), the communication value is radically altered.  The excessive ritualization of such a code destroys its value by pushing the experience to an extreme diametrically  opposite that of the example above...enacting the drama is such a way that it was [incorrectly] interpreted as real life.

In the case of the excessive ritualization of the Lord's Supper, the communication value is lost (or at least radically changed) when it bears no resemblance to anything else in the participants' experience.  This means that our attempts to interpret the event via analogy with other life experiences are frustrated.  But since we are taught that God commands us to do it, we tend to interpret the strange, unique thing as sacred and magical.  That is, we interpret this meaningless ritual as we interpret any meaningless ritual (e.g. kissing grandma)--as required by the one in charge (in this case God) and entered into to please him rather than as a participatory experience..

...Since eating together already exists as a meaningful code within the society, all that needs to be done is to practice the Lord's Supper as a real meal (as the early church did).  This would allow the sacramental significance of the activity to develop naturally from the associations between it and real life, on the one hand, and between it and the  historical experience of Jesus with the disciples, on the other.

These [dead codes} (like poor Bible translations) are like bridges halfway across a river that require the receptors to build their own half from the opposite bank if they are to be able to make use of the part of the bridge that has been built.
-Charles H. Kraft, Communication Theory for Christian Witness,  pp 115-116

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