There are Episcopalians, I fancy more of them ordained than lay, who really believe that we are living in a special age. After centuries of neglect, God the Holy Spirit is busy replacing the teachings of Jesus, the theology and practicality of Paul, with new messages which oddly seem largely about sex. The notable exception is the fashionable idea that holy communion should be offered to all and sundry. We haven’t gone into the street yet to offer communion to passers by. Our invitation is confined to those who wander through the church door, like what we are about, and want to participate.


Now I would love to participate in the rehearsal of a great orchestra, perhaps even conduct. The problem is that I play no musical instrument and conducting is more than waving a wand. To participate I might reasonably conclude that some form of training is needed, ending in formal recognition.


But is receiving communion of the same genre? If I am welcome at a dinner party surely I should be fed? Certainly the Eucharist is a supper, and who would deny someone their supper because they don’t yet belong to the family? Well some would if food is scarce or if they are miserly and miserable.


What if a supper is a reunion, intended for the family, to demonstrate family membership, strengthen the family in mutual love, and encourage the family to honor the family tradition of service to others?  It would be odd to invite non-family members to such a meal: not only odd but strangely odd. After all, there are two ways to become “family”. One is either born into the family, and the family is bound to acknowledge you, or one may be adopted, chosen, selected. The Christian family has only “one” born member and that is Jesus. The rest of us are adopted.


And that brings us to Baptism in which we are adopted by God’s grace and covenant. A covenant is a legal, binding agreement. In the Old Testament God said, “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”  It’s all about salvation, not in terms of some personal and private arrangement to get me to heaven, but rather a gracious invitation to “belong” to God in the fellowship of the “belonged”. The Church is the New Israel, an “Israel” now extended to men and women, Jew and Gentile, slaves and free people, as St. Paul put it. Indeed our freedom is a form of slavery, the fellowship of those who in Christ, to use the old translation, oare those with “no reputation”, who empty themselves in the service of God and the world.


Baptism gathers us into this servant community, lead by Jesus who became a slave and thus was “highly exalted”. In baptism we become “nothing” in order to become everything.


The Holy Supper is intended to give life and strength to God’s adopted servant family. To participate we are first invited to belong, to enter into covenant with God for the world. We accept this adoption by being baptized.


Of course there is an exclusion here. But one isn’t being mean or exclusive to deny the meal to those who do not belong. The Early Church, closer to Jesus’ day, made catechumens, learners,  wait for years before being baptized and invited to the family meal. Baptism was a solemn conclusion to that process, a sign that the family was prepared to share its calling and mission to those being called by God to service and mission. It implied risk. It was risky to invite the ire of one’s earthy family and friends by becoming a Christian. It was risky because then, and often now, one might risk life and limb to be named a Christian.


In the West today, that risk is largely gone. An adult coming to baptism might still invite ridicule, but never death. And so we begin to think that the Eucharist is evangelism, a means to entice membership, to make enquirers welcome, or non-believers accepted.  To open the Eucharist to all demonstrates unawareness of the nature of the two great Sacraments. And this is passing strange in our church. After all we have made much of the Baptismal Covenant, implied that it deepens the meaning of baptism in a manner other Christian communities ignore. But what does all this stress on God’s covenant in baptism mean if we are suddenly to decide that it doesn’t matter, that the particular grace and gift of continued life in Christ  offered in the Eucharist doesn’t require our adoption?  Or is this mere sentimentality?




One Response

  1. Nicely done! I think the trend towards communion without prior baptism shows that a lot of us are forgetting what the Eucharist is about. We certainly shouldn’t go to the extent that some denominations do (such as some who restrict communion only to congregation members), but should keep remembering that the Eucharist is a sacrament for members of the Church-at-large by baptism. 🙂

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