Saturday, February 4, 2012

Express Lane Communion?

From the files of the "What were you thinking?"

There are express lanes for everything everywhere. If you have a special pass, you can go in the express lane for tollbooths. There are express check outs at grocery stores. You can have express shipping. Everything is express now. So, I suppose it was not unusual when I read this article about Express Lane Communion.

From the article:

For at least 40 years, this downtown United Methodist church has offered communion to city dwellers and commuters during the morning rush. At 7:30, Phil Blackwell--who inherited the tradition--consecrates the elements with whomever happens to be in the room at the moment. For the next 90 minutes, communion and a simple prayer are offered for anyone who walks in.

The communion, offered without a traditional liturgy, could very well have an "express lane" feel. When I first heard about this communal rite, I wondered: theologically, what is communion absent community? Culturally, why do I and others imagine we don't have time for liturgy?

Though I could go to great lengths about what is wrong with this practice, I'm going to focus on instead the root cause of why such new practices as Express Lane Communion have become a part of the Christian mainstream.

What is communion without community and why do people not have time for the full liturgy? The answer to both questions is the same: that people are egoists and have time only for themselves. It's a horrible reality that even in the midst of the Kingdom of God, we are still focusing on ourselves as individuals and not as the Body of Christ.

People want the Eucharist but they want it on their own terms. Why take an hour and a half for prayer when I can just get the Eucharist in 90 seconds? Why prepare at all? That doesn't do it for me; I'm ready when I say I am whether that's four seconds or four hours. It's all about me.

This egoism is not a mainstream Protestant problem or a Catholic problem or an Orthodox problem: It's a Christian problem. The Church, the Ecclesia, the body of those "called out" (ek+kaleo is Greek for "to call out" or "choose") is a foil to the needs of self. But too many Christians reject the Church or church in general. They want to be spiritual and love Jesus, but again, it's always on their own terms. They want their own express lanes to come into the Kingdom, carrying as many items or as few as they wish.

For all the errors that exist within the Church or churches, whether Orthodox or other confession, the root cause can be traced to egoism. Arius and Nestorius and Eutyches and Pelagius and the Basileus Leo III "Isaurian" were no doubt pious men, but they wanted to elevate their own understanding of God above the Church's consensus and teaching.

Removing the community from communion and jettisoning the preparation for communion are opposite sides of the same coin. That is why no Orthodox Liturgy can ever occur without at least two or three people present. The Reformation in the West considered the private communion and private masses of the priests as one of its main grudges. (Ironic that the Protestants who decried this are the ones perpetuating it now).

If we are all about ourselves, then why even receive the Lord in the Eucharist? There's probably not even room.

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