Notes on a Godless Church: Part 3, The Moralization of the Lord's Supper

Last year we had a gathering of our church leaders and staff for what we called a "Sacrament Summit," a conversation to talk about what happens in baptism and the Lord's Supper.

The specific issues we were discussing are particular to the Churches of Christ. Your faith tradition and denomination will have its own views of the sacraments. Regardless, our particular struggles do, I think, highlight trends among many low church Protestants. Specifically, the disenchantment of the sacraments. 

Regarding the Lord's Supper, well before our Summit, the Churches of Christ already had an extremely disenchanted view of the Lord's Supper. In our tradition, the bread and the juice are mainly memory aids, prompts to recall the death of Jesus on the cross. Which is lovely, but there's nothing particularly enchanted about that view of the Supper. Christ isn't "really present" with us in the celebration. As a memory, Christ is put at a distance. The focus is upon us and our efforts, the power of the sacrament dependent upon our ability to adopt the proper head space in thinking and reflecting upon the crucifixion. If we do that well, we've engaged in the sacrament well. If we do that poorly, we've not done a good job. But notice: It's all on us. The spotlight is wholly upon human agency.

A related trend is the moralization of the Lord's Supper. The words we say around the Lord's Table highlight our love for each other. "Jesus loves us," we say, "and we love each other." That's what the meal symbolizes, our imitation of Jesus' love. Which, to be clear, is wonderful. I'm just pointing out how we are moralizing the Lord's Supper. And while there is a moral aspect to the Lord's Supper, if the Supper is reduced to morals then the Supper is unwittingly disenchanted and loses its specific, sacramental character. As Flannery O'Connor once quipped about the Eucharist, "If it's just a symbol, to hell with it."A moralized Lord's Supper, as a "symbol of our love for each other," is irrelevant because I have lots of things in my life telling me to love others, from beer commercials to bumper stickers. If the Lord's Supper is just a delivery system for the "Be Kind" message, I don't really need it. I can get that message from many other places in my life. 

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