Seeing Communion Again for the First Time

Breaking of the bread.Image via Wikipedia
As you know, I've recently changed church jobs and ended up in the Plains.  Sunday was my first Communion Sunday in a new place.  And the culture shock that I had been waiting for finally set in during the Communion liturgy.

You see, in my old parish, we would do communion weekly.  While the pros and cons are good to talk about, one negative consequence is that no one wants to read the full UMC liturgy every week.  So I would write my own...retaining the proper elements and form for a liturgical sacrament, of course!  And since I wrote my own liturgies, I could tweak the theological substance to better reflect the worship message or my parish's theological struggles that I, as the pastor, knew about.  I did this for three years.

So imagine my surprise when I read through the United Methodist liturgy in full yesterday.  There were several glaring differences between three years of liturgy and the "orthodox" liturgy in the UM Hymnal.  I was so struck by it that I thought I would share.  While I am a relatively new pastor (three years in my first parish, and seven years of church administrative experience prior to that), I would like to offer the following radical points of departure between what I had been doing and what the "orthodox" liturgy is.

NOTE: Given that I am part of the UM ordination system, I send these liturgies for evaluation yearly.  So read them in confidence that while they may not be your theology or "orthodox" theology that they are being reviewed by my peers...which is more than most pastors can say!

Confession and Pardon
  • UM Hymnal: We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have failed to be an obedient church.  We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, we have not heard the cry of the needy.
  • Hacking Christianity (HX) Liturgy examples: "When we fail to love one another, we obstruct the flow of God's grace given to us to be given to others." "When we fail to love our neighbor, we shut the door in the face of Christ the beggar." "We confess we have not always played our part in confronting the darkness, and bringing the light of Christ to troubled places."
  • Reflection: There's a conflict between "being" and "doing" in this section.  In the UM version, "we have" and "we have not" are statements of being, of existing in a state of sin.  In the HX version, "when we" and "we have not always" are statements of doing, of when we do these things, these are the consequences.  While I recognize the restrictive nature of writing a communion liturgy for every time and place, I worry about focusing on the "being" and not making connections between "doings": thoughts and effects, actions and consequences, doings and becomings. 

    Your turn: does the universalizing tendency of "being" in the Communion liturgy or the focused "doing" in the HX Liturgy speak to you more?  Why?
Masculine Language
  • UM Hymnal: Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of Power and Might.  Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the Highest.
  • HX Liturgy: Holy Holy Holy One, God of Power and Might.  Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God.  Hosanna in the highest.
  • Reflection: In the UM Hymnal liturgy (full version W+T 2), there are 24 references to God as Lord and "He."  While I respect the Hymnal is from 1989 and not every church values inclusive language, that's a very high gender:text ratio.  There's no need for that in contemporary inclusive churches.  Even in the quoted above section that clearly references Christ, there's liturgical ways to do it that keep the reference clear but don't use masculine language. 

    What do you think?  Is there a need for better gender inclusivity in the communion liturgy?  Or are those words sacrosanct and women (and men) need to suck it up?
Blood Imagery
  • UM Words of Institution:
    On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
    "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
  • HX Liturgy: "On the last night that Jesus had with his disciples, the women and men who had been with him for so many days.  He took bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it.  He passed it around saying "take, eat, for this is my body."  Maybe by that he meant that his body may be broken, and our bodies may be broken, but so long as there are disciples and followers, the body is never truly broken. 
    When the supper was over, Jesus took the cup, raised it up and gave thanks, and passed it around and said "this is my blood."  Maybe by that he meant that he would not be with us in body much longer, but whenever we love one another, forgive one another, do acts of mercy with one another...then Jesus' lifeblood flows through our veins and we are truly incorporated into Jesus' body.  Jesus says "every time you do this, remember me."
  • UM Epiclesis:
    "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood...All honor and glory are yours, Eternal Father, now and forever. Amen."
  • HX Liturgy: "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and fruit of the vine.  Make them be for us the bread of life, and the quenching cup of blessing poured out for one and for many for the forgiveness of sins. May they nurture us, may they sustain us, until we gather as broken people around the table again.  All honor and glory is yours, O God, now and forever. Amen." 
  • UM Hymnal: "The body of Christ, given for you" and "The blood of Christ, given/shed for you."  
  • HX Liturgy:  "the bread of life, given for you" OR "the body of Christ, broken as our bodies are broken" and "the cup of God's love that we share" OR "the love of Christ, given for you"
  • Reflection: As is perfectly clear here at HX, blood atonement and I are not bunkmates or pen-pals.  But what happens if we fudge it in the communion liturgy? 

    A reflection by Cheryl Magrini at the GBOD questions accommodating children by using non-blood imagery. She acknowledges that children do not have a reference for weird imagery and blood language, but neither have they developed understanding for metaphorical language like "bread of heaven" etc.  And if we understand this as a re-enactment, then giving the cliff-notes version of the liturgy is not being authentic to the original giving of bread and cup.  She concludes that we should use the traditional language but offer education as to the diversity of what it means.

    Those are both powerful critiques but neither point to the underlying pervasiveness of blood atonement in the communion feast.  Even though John Wesley clearly supported blood atonement, his atonement theology is much more nuanced and contains elements of ransom and exemplary atonement as well.  Why then does the communion table reflect only one?

    What do you think?  Is there room in the liturgy to create a more nuanced understanding of what Jesus meant by "this is my body" and "this is my blood?"

In closing, let's be clear: I write the above not to say one is better than the other.  I'm a simple pastor...the UM Hymnal was written by professional spirit-filled people!  I am fully aware the hubris in writing the above as if they can be compared: they are apples and oranges as far as I am concerned.

I'm writing about my experience as a pastor.  And so far in my new ministry, nothing is so drastically different as communion.  Here's the problem: In my theology, liturgy is the work of the people.  While I respect Magrini's statement that different people can get different things from the same evocative liturgy, as the UMC moves closer and closer to weekly communion, it can feel rote and impersonal because it is not the people's language (especially those who value inclusive language and imagery).  If liturgy is the work of the people, then does the communion liturgy include the people in it?  When will the sabbath be made for humans, and not humans for the Sabbath?

Tough thoughts, and I anticipate some heated discussion about liturgical sacrosanctity (is that a word?) and cafeteria theology.  If so, let's discuss the essential issue: can the communion liturgy be made more personal to the congregation?  What theological "laws" are broken in doing so?  And if the result is absent of masculine language and offers a nuanced understanding of it still communion?

Discuss.  Welcome to our visitors and thank you for the comments!

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Una Malachica July 7, 2009 at 7:36 AM  

as i read your post, i remembered a communion service -- we were in a line in the aisle moving slowly toward the altar. in front of me was a father and his young son. the boy was excited. "we're going to drink BLOOD!" he kept saying. his father tried to tell him that we weren't really going to drink blood, but the boy kept reminding him that that's what the preacher had said. i'm sorry that i don't know what the boy thought after he tasted the grape juice.

Rev. Jeremy Smith July 7, 2009 at 7:59 AM  

Una, that's hilarious and quite traumatic for those children....uh, less enthused about the idea of drinking blood.

While we shouldn't water-down the liturgy for young minds, we should question if such imagery is helpful for adults as well.

Sky McCracken July 7, 2009 at 8:22 AM  

I think we approach individualism when we go too far on free-agency in something as foundational as a sacramental celebration. If we were autonomous churches, that might be understandable. But as United Methodists, we are members of a covenant community.

If I were visiting your church and they were celebrating the Eucharist, I would find it less than comforting to not hear familiar words from a shared liturgy in a denomination living (supposedly) in covenant with each other.

As far a blood - I think it's a non-negotiable... if we take "This Holy Mystery" as our shared understand of Communion in the United Methodist church. Watering down the sacrifice of Christ seems to miss the whole point.

In my opinion.


Carolyn July 7, 2009 at 8:50 AM  

I have many responses to your posts, Jeremy, and feel the need to reply only occasionally. This is one occasion, and it's probably because our first week with the interim pastor at CWM did not go well at all. A certain person was so disturbed by the many slip-ups throughout the service that I invied her to my apartment to talk about it (her eyes were welling up). I personally was disturbed by how communion went.

The interim minister, as you know, is a lay speaker- not theologically trained. He tried to skip the anamnesis AND the epiclesis! He said, "Well, I think the elements are blessed by our presence here" and thought that was a good enough reason to skip the blessing of the elements! Personally, the epiclesis is what's most important to me in communion. I'm glad that someone interjected and forced him to at least do the epiclesis, but I was really upset.

Since we were both attenders at CWM, you know that inclusive language, "doing" instead of "being" language, and not using broken body/ blood language are all important to me. I discovered last Sunday what, to me, must be included.

There absolutely must be an invocation of the Spirit (epiclesis) or it's not communion. And, while the actual blessing of the elements is not as meaningful to me personally, it just doesn't seem much like communion without the story (anamnesis). Unless we remember the time when Jesus was in the upper room with the friends, we don't remember what makes this moment sacred.

That's why we call it "Word and Table." We say it and then we do it. For me, both must happen in order to make communion what it is. I don't think that atonement theology, male pronouns, or even certain "standardized" language are what makes it special. It's the presence of us with one another and God with us in the act of verbally and physically remembering, experiencing the presence of the Spirit blessing and healing us.

scituatedrev July 7, 2009 at 9:18 AM  

Hey Jeremy, nice post - always good to think this stuff through. It is important and central to who we are as Christ followers. There's a lot I might respond to, but I will focus only on one - the language of Lord. I see this as less about inclusive language and more about authority. We profess Jesus as both Savior and Lord. Yes, this language is rooted in specific empire-related stuff -but I think it's part of the point. Much of the issue in the Church USAmerica is a failure to submit one's full life to the authority of Christ - to give Jesus "Lordship" over every aspect of one's life. So using the word "One" fails to keep that sense. Is there a word available that maintains that sense and yet is tied to our context? I'm not sure. Shane Claiborne goes after this in his book "Jesus for President," and pulls it off pretty well. I'm not sure how well it would translate in a liturgy. As Sky mentions above, the issue of individualism is very real in our culture.

Thanks again - I pray your ministry continues to unfold in exciting and dangerous ways!

Kirk VanGilder,  July 7, 2009 at 9:56 AM  

Ok, you're triggering my current thinking on a part of my dissertation I've been hammering out. (surprise surprise).

One thing I've become concerned about is the captivity of Christian theology to the written word. The idea of Christian theology being "captive" to something is not new. Whether it's evangelical thinking about "captivity to popular culture" or the trend in political, practical, and post-colonial theology to examine the moment of the "Constantinian captivity" of Christian theology, it seems that thinking about how how Christian theology intersects (to avoid the "compete" or concerns of "commensurateness" language of Bryan Stone) with other narratives of meaning is always something rich to consider.

Not only did the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman empire radically change how Christian theology and the experience of the Church relates to power and governance, it radically changed its relation to language as well. Christianity up to that point had been largely a religion of oral transmission. To wit, "Those who met Jesus told others about that experience. They found their lives transformed and sought to experience Jesus as well. That experience led them to wish to tell others." Or scripturally, "Come see a man who told me everything about myself!" (John 4:29)

This was the Experienced Word...not the Written Word or even the Spoken Word. The embodied, incarnate, experienced, shared Word of God. And it was long the bedrock of Christianity. While preachers preached to crowds who then went to preach to others (Spoken word) and apostles wrote Gospels and Letters which were far more "read to people" than "read by people" (Written and Spoken word), the heart of the movement was in the experience of the forsaken, downtrodden, and everyday people. These were largely illiterate people and not speakers of either Greek or Latin, the official business and governmental languages of the day.

What the adoption of Christianity by the highest human governance it had contact with at that time (Rome) did to it was wed it more tightly to a fixed archival use of language in written documents. While scribal traditions existed for a long time in the Judaic world that Christianity arose from, there is a marked difference in my view as to how a multitude of approaches to the authority of written texts operate in Jewish tradition (both then and now) and the singular power of the Written Word came to operate in Christianity when it was wedded with Roman archival practices.

The Torah, Talmud, and Midrashim all have a place in Jewish religious life, they are all written documents and have various weights given to them by various people as to their ultimate authority. They all seem to be 'weighed by the scholars' and 'weighed by the people' throughout Jewish history in discerning the meaning of God's relationship with them as a Chosen People.

Kirk VanGilder,  July 7, 2009 at 9:57 AM  

In somewhat oversimplified contrast, the Bible came to be inscribed in Latin as did the Church's liturgies. This wedded Christian theology very tightly to the very highest traditions of a power that controlled diverse populations by assimilation, intimidation, and often harshly inflexible application of military rule. On the positive side, it also ensured that much of what was written endured through the Middle Ages in the aftermath of the fall of Roman control over Europe. On the downside, as Latin became unknown throughout the land other than to only the most elite, liturgy became "magic mystery words" without meaning and theological import to the everyday person.

By the Middle Ages, you had congregations largely ignoring the entire Latin Mass then falling silent and clambering over one another to see the ritual only at the moment when the Bread and the Cup were raised. Yet any suggestion that the liturgy be in the vernacular was soundly resisted not only by the magisterium but even in the masses of the congregation as it "isn't Communion without the magic words."

This speaks to the power of the Experienced Word that still breaks through our best efforts sometimes to bury it in the Spoken/Written word! This odd tension reappears above (as it has in every age) whenever liturgical reform the words we write/speak is sought.

However, the shift to vernacular did open up meaning to the masses once again. What it did not entirely do is break the captivity to the Written word, it merely shifted it to new languages and moved its emphasis to Spoken word (rather than Written) for a short period before literacy rates rose and once again the King James Version encircled things in the Written word for many English users. "The KJV is the only Bible" is the rallying cry of the captivity of Christianity to the Written word we often still see today.

Wayne Morris has written a lovely book _Theology without words_ that moves theological from his experience with Deaf Christian communities in the UK. He explores how the non-written and non-writable characteristics of Signed Languages (BSL in his case) forces Deaf Christian communities to the margins of a Christianity in captivity to the Written word. There's works on the "Bible-less" African Independent Churches that explore some of the same dynamics in a culture that values the spoken/enacted word over the written for authority as well. These are cultures that like Native American cultures, learned that what is said and done by a people holds more authority what is written on a piece of paper. A stark contrast to the legal codification of European trust in the Written word of Constitutions--another sign of how the archival practice of Roman governance influences our thought about authority of various modes of words.

Kirk VanGilder,  July 7, 2009 at 9:57 AM  

So this exploration of Wayne Morris into emergent Deaf theologies is one of the areas that interest me in my dissertation. In short, I think it's one of the MOST significant contributions Deaf communities world wide can contribute to the Church is to tear it away from the captivity to the written/spoken word and re-incarnate it in bodies of people (communities) of enacted/experienced Word.

What this means to this debate is that not only do we want to give rational thought to the 'meaning and expression' of our liturgies as Jeremy has done, but give care to what Sky brings up in how it is experienced and received as well.

My concern with what Sky brings up is that we're only "talking to ourselves and those inside the tradition" when we cling to blood language. Originally, blood spoke of sacrificial love. Things such as dying on a battlefield for the love of one's homeland or being fed to lions in the love for one's faith...or as loving someone enough to die for them.

Over time though, that meaning got adopted into Roman law where "someone must die for this transgression" rather than "someone must be forgiven for this transgression." And that's where atonement theology gets born and where it causes trouble. The notion that God demands that someone MUST DIE for sin rather than MUST BE FORGIVEN for their sins seems antithetical to the core of Christ's message to "turn the other cheek." The meaning of "blood" changed in language and our liturgy and theology around it became distorted as a result.

Fast forward to a modern world and consider where language/culture uses the word "blood" and you'll realize it's not about sacrifice at all anymore. It's about gang violence, military violence, AIDS, gory movies, vampiric control of obsessive relationships (Twilight anyone?), etc.

So what does someone who is entirely unchurched and ensconced in these meanings of blood experiencing when we speak of blood language in the liturgy? Particularly how does the church's liturgy impact victims of bloody violence, those living with HIV/AIDS and its devastation, those trapped in abusive relationships echoed in the vampire lore of popular culture.

Are there not ways to talk about sacrificial love-- what I read to be the concept that the original blood language was trying to convey-- that do not depend on a blood language that carries convoluted and contradictory meanings in contemporary culture? Thus the clinging to blood language concerns me inasmuch as we're reducing the Experienced Word to the Written word again by developing an internal vocabulary that only makes sense to the initiated and means nothing, if not the opposite, to those we are trying to share the love of "the one who told me everything about myself."

Kirk VanGilder,  July 7, 2009 at 9:58 AM  

Lastly...confound the software that places restrictions on post length!

Scott July 7, 2009 at 10:41 AM  

Jeremy, interesting post. One of the problems in the UMC is that as a pastor you can make all kinds of changes to the liturgy but the next pastor can also make all kinds of changes. So what is the identity of the local church? If we follow the liturgy, then we have a common identity. However, as you have discovered, sometimes it's hard to say certain words or phrases in the liturgy. What does it mean in our ordination vows that we accept the "liturgy" of the UMC? There are some who would say we are bound to the words of the Communion liturgy. Of course, Word and Table III gives us freedom to use words different from W&T I. Therefore, is does become very confusing.

At Acts 2 up in Edmond, we say to children who are younger than confirmation age (12ish) "Remember how much Jesus loves you." Of course, I have often wondered what they think because they can obviously hear the words of institution in the liturgy and they can hear us as we say to the adults kneeling next to them "The blood of Christ for you...". We use the language of "wine" in the liturgy but we also give instructions where we do mention that we use grape juice.

Great blog. Keep it up.

johnmeunier July 7, 2009 at 11:08 AM  

More to chew on here than I can do at the moment, so I'll just take a small nibble.

I do not see the stark being/doing dichotomy that you do. To say we have not loved someone is to talk about what we have or have not done. We come to the table each month or week mindful of what we have done or not done. We lay that before the Lord and we partake of the elements.

If we communicate regularly, we will be kept in constant awareness of how our doing is related to our next turn at the table. So, I do not see that contrast.

On the issue of localization, the rubrics in the Hymnal provide room for a pastor to craft parts of the message to meet the local situation, while the larger framework remains the same.

My one negative reaction to the versions you offered is that phrase "maybe by that he meant." I think I know why you are doing that, but in the liturgy is clangs in my ears.

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Anonymous,  July 7, 2009 at 1:21 PM  

Short answer:

"we should question if such imagery is helpful for adults as well."then why even do communion at all? because post easter jesus is absolutely meaningless without his death and the events and ministries leading up to it. that's why! you aren't doing communion!

long answer: see below.

Confession and Pardon:
I like the Hymnal version better, it's always had a nice flow, it does come of a bit more serious but, sometimes that's missing in contemporary reinterpretations, people should take that part serious IMO. it also has it's
punch at the end, the whole poor thing he was about. to tease you a bit, the hymn version actually uses the word love more. The doing over being thing is more of a non issue to me in this section. over analysis

Masculine Language:
Yeah, inclusive is good, mostly. However(because i love devil's advocate), there is a shade of difference between honoring both the masculine and feminine and emasculation, even among "inclusive congregations". It is deeply ingrained psychologically that neuter is weak for many people, and even i view it as such some times. You preach in oklahoma. it will be reality, it will be construed as preachy to some of those who may not even be chauvinist, but like tradition. (Remember your quadrilateral!) In this instance it doesn't come off too bad. i like yours, but smudging out every gender specific word in the bible is something that irks me, even as a hippy femlib. does this preclude any mention of God in the parental EVER with you in your ministry? ALSO, to tease you more,

"The articles of Religion of the Methodist Church"

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the FATHER, the SON, and the Holy Ghost.

Blood Imagery...
you know how i do with my rants, and you know it's never personal.

no, please no, please use the Hymn. If i heard that at church, i would feel completely talked down to. I know that crackers and welches aren't really his body. I'm willing to bet most protestants, even in oklahoma know this. "maybe he meant" comes off as pedantic.


I know protestants hate dwelling on "pre easter jesus" (as the author you reference in your blog title calls it... in a book i happen to have autographed ;D ) but glossing it over feels kinda cheap. it just fosters that annoying, "screw the environment and the poor" attitude most heaven focused types adopt.

For most churches, it's already reduced to a once a month streamlined get it done fast race to see who can go through the motions the fastest. and really, the kids will still basically ignore what you are saying anyway and
draw on the church bulletin with the attendance booklet pencil. most people intentionally select scarier and more violent stuff on their tivo, and spend more time in front of that than at church during a week, with their children. and besides, if we can't handle symbolic language concerning blood i mean... the next day... jesus died, and not just in words, like, for real. it's called the last supper... for that reason.

i'm not trying to shackle you exactly to the hymnal words and I do recognize that certain modifications to it based on your parish needs is definitely good stuff and needed. just be aware of the elasticity limit of your flock before the meaning breaks apart completely.

"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine
desires new wine, but says, The old is good."


Mark H.

p.s. so uh, as an aside, how do you feel about "the kingdom" the new covenant, yadda yadda, with communion being reduced to "Jesus rocks! juice for all!" ?

PamBG July 7, 2009 at 3:48 PM  

Middle-aged woman checking in. I'm a terrible Methodist because I love liturgy. I grew up in a male-headship church and fought most of my teenage years and adult life to be heard, be taken seriously and to feel valued as an equal with men before God.

1) I much prefer your confession. I think we mainly *do* sins, although I believe that 'all people are sinners' in that we are not capable of perfect sinlessness. I also like the additional gloss a lot: 'When we fail to love our neighbor, we shut the door in the face of Christ the beggar.'

2) I've always thought 'the one who comes in the name of the Lord' is Jesus. Therefore I see no reason to remove the 'he'. Personally, I don't have a problem with 'Lord'. Your version sounds contrived to me and I prefer the traditional version.

3) I really, really, really dislike your words of institution. It sounds like you are launching into a long explanation of why you are replacing the images you don't like. And it sounds like you are telling me what to believe. The words that Jesus said are in the bible and I'm confident enough that he's not going to get his knickers in a twist that I don't believe in penal substititonary atonement that I can do my own demythologising. Take a chill pill and keep it simple.

4) Words of distribution get same comment as number 3.

Carolyn July 7, 2009 at 10:11 PM  

@Scott: you wrote, "If we can't handle symbolic language concerning blood I mean... the next day... jesus died, and not just in words, like, for real. it's called the last supper... for that reason. ...Just be aware of the elasticity limit of your flock before the meaning breaks apart completely."

I want to understand why blood, gore, and violence = meaning for you.

As a person who's always been really squeamish (trust me, my partner knows he'll be the one cleaning up the kids' puke), I've always been uncomfortable with blood language. I genuinely want to understand why no blood = no meaning so that I can better understand those I'm called to serve.

Creed Pogue,  July 7, 2009 at 10:58 PM  

Lots of different thoughts here!

First, we really don't have standing to change things without having tried it the original way at least ONCE! It would have been one thing if you used the UMH liturgies and after a while decided to change it. Of course, that also begs the question of whether that is a violation of order. You instead decided to write your own (which puts you with the Zen Buddhist who didn't wind up becoming an Episcopal Bishop). I would really wonder who was doing the "evaluating" as well and telling you that the "Smith Liturgies" were fine.

Why would we make a new hymnal if we are just going to wing it as we go along anyway?

Are most women in the church at all concerned about referring to God in the masculine? This seems like a concern of a very few who wish to impose their small minority view on the rest of us. Of course, if you are only talking to those who believe you are correct, it will just continue to reinforce itself. There is a big difference between treating females as children of God who deserve respect versus changing how we refer to God to assuage some sort of "guilt" or achieve the next level of political correctness.

Again, I really wonder how many people are "freaked out" by blood imagery besides people in Cambridge. We (or at least most of the church) sing plenty of hymns that refer to the blood sacrifice. There is a lot more gore on the evening news than in our hymns. This just seems like more political correctness and trying to "atone" for the "sin" of living in America.

Rev. Jeremy Smith July 7, 2009 at 11:37 PM  

The key image for me is "what do you say to a child in the serving line?"

I suspect that a decent number of clergy choose to adapt their language with children. Echoing Una's comments, the look of horror in a child's eyes once when I was serving communion as a layperson and said "this is the blood of Christ" started my unease with the practice.

I suspect that when it comes to the communion liturgy, clergy are comfortable with private adaptation but not communal adaptation. What is said 1-1 to a child in the serving line seems different than saying in the words of institution. But they are parts of the same liturgy and supposedly bound by the same expectations of why the loose adaptation of the small liturgy but outrage in these comments of the big liturgy?

I guess there's macro and micro expressions of making liturgy the work of and reflective of the people. The micro seems OK "because its for a child" but the macro seems difficult for various reasons expressed above.

Is this an accurate portrayal?

Carolyn July 8, 2009 at 6:27 AM  

@Creed: I think women who become aware of the issue of inclusive language are concerned with it. When I was a very conservative Evangelical in my teens, it didn't bother me at all and I didn't think twice. After a clergyman hurt me, I began to really question my faith and ended up sticking with United Methodism partially because of its commitment to inclusive language. I couldn't even talk to God back then... I can now, thanks to finding other ways to think about and address God.

Sky McCracken July 8, 2009 at 8:50 AM  

There really seems to be two issues here - how to deal with children, and how to deal with rite and ritual in a denomination that claims covenant with each other.

Where children (and adults) are concerned, catechesis is essential. While blood language seems to concern some, we need to be reminded that blood is life-giving. We regularly have blood drives at our church (every three months). Is giving blood a sacrifice? Yes. Is blood essential for our lives? Absolutely. The gift of giving blood means that another life is saved. I've been a pastor for over 20 years and never run into any problem with "blood language" once good teaching and discipleship formation takes place with children and adults. Indeed, in a society that is SO preoccupied with self and individualism, the notion of sacrifice, particularly the sacrifice of Christ, is essential.

As far as atonement... if we don't need it as a doctrine, than the Wesley's were wrong and our covenant with the denomination needs to be dissolved - and we need to take our crosses down (as well as get rid of the cross in the Cross and Flame). The Articles of Religion are fairly clear: "[Christ] truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.” Many of our hymns reflect this understanding - including "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing": "His blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me."

I think this matters, because if I as an elder in the church teach what the denomination affirms and use its approved hymnal and resources, but the pastor before or after me teaches or uses something different, we make the people in the pews schizophrenic and dishonor the covenant. Isn't that lying?

Perhaps I'm wrong. But I think these things matter.

Elizabeth Sweeny July 8, 2009 at 9:43 AM  

Jeremy, I'm uncomfortable with metaphorizing IN the Words of Institution -- I'd rather let them be and allow people to hear them as they need -- but I wouldn't have a problem in talking about what the gathered congregation believes about the Last Supper in the prelude to the official liturgy (I don't actually know the exact details of the "official" liturgy, but I'm imagining it going near the part where we talk about how this table is open to all and what THAT means).

I would in fact be a really big fan of explicitly articulating how the gathered congregation understands Communion.

You probably know that I (1) have a really low theology of Communion personally and (2) am much more comfortable with blood atonement theology than probably any of our mutual friends, but I had a total freakout moment at The Crossing last week when the presider said, "We serve Communion with the very simple words "The Body of Christ" and "The Blood of Christ" " and I had NO context with which to understand how this congregation understood those concepts (it was the first time I had ever worshipped with them). (The presider and I actually had a good conversation afterwards talking about Real Presence -- The Crossing is "emerging" but Episcopal-rooted -- and her discomfort with stuff like the "broken for you" part of the Words of Institution and various other things about Communion words.)

Creed Pogue,  July 8, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

I think talking about blood drives (which is blood shed for the benefit of others) like Sky suggested is a good way to help a kid who has a different take on blood.

@Carolyn: Obviously, I don't know the details of your situation. But, I would think that referring to God as masculine TODAY shouldn't be a problem. Otherwise, you are blaming all men for what happened to you which isn't really healthy. We shouldn't try to "adjust" God to "solve" our problems.

pastorbecca July 8, 2009 at 2:06 PM  

First of all, you and I are are both the best of the Methodist Blogs on the same day according to Wesley Report, so I think that rocks!

I always write my own prayers of confession, using language that ties in with the Word that day. My invitation to confession I wrote myself and don't alter much. I think the explanation and invitation needs to be clear. Confession should vary I think, since sins vary.

I'm not even going to touch gendered language. For me it's a duh. However, we do say the Lord's Prayer as part of the communion liturgy, and I have never gotten behind changing "father" to "parent" there. Just me.

On the blood-- the big one for me. I really like the words you have about Jesus' lifeblood; that actually makes me more likely to resonate with the use of blood language in communion, so thank you. I think I'll incorporate this in some way next time.

I don't read the communion liturgy unless I have found a particular one. I speak the liturgy, largely out of the UMH, from memory, with, I'm sure, a few changes. I give thanks for God's presence throughout time, I tell the story of Jesus and of the last supper, and I speak almost verbatim the words of institution and the prayer for the Holy Spirit. I always say 'fruit of the vine' instead of wine, because I have enough people who will not commune if it's wine for sobriety reasons, but are new enough to methodism to not take for granted that it's grape juice. frankly, i think we need to do a better job of this, for everyone's sake.

Then, when I break the bread and raise it and the cup again, I say something like: 'because there is one meal [not one loaf in my church-- one is gluten-free], we who are many are one body... the bread that we share is the bread of life, the Body of Christ, and the cup over which we give thanks is the [here i might now say lifeblood] blood of Christ, the cup of the new relationship with God.' Then I offer an invitation to commune, stressing that all are welcome.

When children come forward, I alter what I say, usually, "Ari, when you eat this bread, remember how much God loves you," for teeny ones, "Ben, this bread is part of Jesus, who loves you and lives in you," for slightly older, and "Liz, this is the bread of life, a gift of Christ's own self, given for you." With adults, I often alternate between Body of Christ/Bread of Life; Blood of Christ/Cup of Blessing, depending on my mood or what I pastorally think in the moment based on something we've talked about. I always say given for you, not broken/poured out, because that does sound too violent for my tastes.

When we gather to tell again the story, when we pray for God's Spirit to make us one, when we break and share the gifts of God, we re-member the broken Body of Christ, and that's communion. To me the words don't matter, but I want them to be familiar enough to be comforting to those who commune together (unless the purpose that day was to shake us out of our comfort, which there's a time and place for as well). But God makes it communion, not the words we speak, or--dare I say--the one who speaks them.

Great post, as always.

Anonymous,  July 8, 2009 at 2:54 PM  

"I want to understand why blood, gore, and violence = meaning for you."

I don't glorify blood. it's not inherently a negative or a positive. do you mean when you think of blood that it doesn't evoke anything bad or good at all to you? It's context, it's more nuanced than you implying i'm bloodthirsty for finding meaning in it. I'm a gallon donor, i find a positive meaning in that context. I honor his sacrifice. I do not rob jesus of the magnitute of his efforts on earth by ignoring the currency with which he paid along his way. I understand the symbolism in context. Most people do in a parish. and surprisingly it's actually important and comforting to them. I understand it's connection to the passover meal, and what the title "lamb of god" is about. And beyond all that, there are some SERIOUS theological repercussions for blotting out any mention of blood in the last supper, including as the tip of the iceberg of a million things, sin, and covenant.

You are rewriting stuff to fit your own theology, not your parishes, from what it sounds like. Go over it with your parish first, if they say "we don't like it" you put it in a drawer and bring it up at the next church you go to. ordination doesn't give you carte blanche to change every little thing that you personally don't like. You serve your congregation, not yourself.

The articles of faith and the book of doctrine are not binding legal contracts, but they help define who methodists are as a faith community. Methodists affirm that jesus was savior. Methodists affirm original sin, and yet also affirm free will, that they can recieve the sanctifying grace of god through Christ, and the blood he shed in atonement. Methodists affirm the lord's supper in which they recieve redemption through his death, the body symbolized in bread broken, and the cup his blood. Now this isn't super serious for a lay person, but those who are ministers
have a higher level of responsibility in upholding that which defines the church they serve, even if it personally bothers them. otherwise, everyone's a secret unitarian lying on their ordination questions with no clue who john wesley is.


Sky McCracken July 8, 2009 at 4:53 PM  

I think it is also paramount to know that our newly-accepted document on Holy Communion is the official teaching of the Eucharist for United Methodists, and that the sacraments go beyond just being symbols - Christ is really present at the Table. To quote from This Holy Mystery:

The Christian church has struggled through the centuries to understand just how Christ is present in the Eucharist. Arguments and divisions have occurred over the matter. The Wesleyan tradition affirms the reality of Christ's presence, although it does not claim to be able to explain it fully. John and Charles Wesley's 166 Hymns on the Lord's Supper are our richest resource for study in order to appreciate the Wesleyan understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. One of these hymns expresses well both the reality and the mystery: "O the Depth of Love Divine," stanzas 1 and 4 (The United Methodist Hymnal, 627):

O the depth of love divine,
the unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into us conveys!
How the bread his flesh imparts,
how the wine transmits his blood,
fills his faithful people's hearts
with all the life of God!

Sure and real is the grace,
the manner be unknown;
only meet us in thy ways
and perfect us in one.
Let us taste the heavenly powers,
Lord, we ask for nothing more.
Thine to bless, 'tis only ours
to wonder and adore.

United Methodists, along with other Christian traditions, have tried to provide clear and faithful interpretations of Christ's presence in the Holy Meal. Our tradition asserts the real, personal, living presence of Jesus Christ. For United Methodists, the Lord's Supper is anchored in the life of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, but is not primarily a remembrance or memorial. We do not embrace the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation, although we do believe that the elements are essential tangible means through which God works. We understand the divine presence in temporal and relational terms. In the Holy Meal of the church, the past, present, and future of the living Christ come together by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may receive and embody Jesus Christ as God's saving gift for the whole world.


Matt Algren July 14, 2009 at 4:27 PM  

I've never given much thought to 'blood atonement' and bloody language. Honestly, I find the bloodline and the parallels between early Hebrew history (sacrificial lambs, etc.) and Jesus' death fascinating. I guess I understand the problem with kids, but I don't remember it bothering me.

Anyway, we shared communion at my church last Sunday, and I was paying attention to verbiage because this discussion was fresh in my mind. You know what I found out? My preacher doesn't use that much blood language. I know he does around Easter, but this time he didn't reference it once. Instead, he did a variation of what's in the hymnal, but he used the musical setting in the supplement (#2256 and 2257) instead of the spoken responses, which we use about half the time. (Thanks to the publishing house for making it so difficult to find online. Seriously. Two hours. Sooo helpful.) It allowed him to change from referencing broken body and blood to sacrifice and covenant without someone reading along and knocking down his door Monday morning because their communion juice wasn't bloody enough.

To anonymous on her most recent comment, it's a minister's job to lead, not follow. Part of leading is asking these kind of (apparently) difficult questions and making appropriate changes. Certainly there's within the Methodist system some give and take, but ultimately I think a certain amount of acquiescence is called for, especially for something as unimportant as the minister not using the B word.

Josh October 3, 2009 at 6:05 AM  

While we shouldn't water-down the liturgy for young minds, we should question if such imagery is helpful for adults as well.


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