Communion means the world to me. Getting to be a part of it as presider, assistant, or person in the pew is a practice, the absence of which would break my heart and erode my soul. That is true despite the fact that neither my devotion to it nor my deep need of it makes a whole lot of sense to me. The words we pray in and around the Eucharist are filled with allusions of substitutionary atonement, claims which leave me perplexed at best. Salvation for me is that Jesus lived for us, that he came to show us how to live and love, indeed, to be fully human as God’s creation of us intends us to be. His death was less an action to save us than the inevitable end of a life so devoted to love and justice in a broken world. And, yet, remembering that act of pure love, i.e., Jesus’ unwillingness to live in a way contrary to his essence even if it meant his death, and not only remembering it in a commemorative way but experiencing it in the bread and wine as though it was, and, indeed, is, occurring at this moment, is the principal act and hope of Christian worship. Theologians call that kind of remembering anamnesis: the action of the past is the reality of the present.
Nothing about our piousness, our impressive knowledge of Eucharistic theology, our devotion to all things church, or our belief about this or that makes us worthy to receive this unending offering of God’s love. Worthiness has nothing to do with it. It is God’s eternal offering of grace and inclusion, less for the proudly converted than it is for us to be converted, time and time again. Coming so close to such grace as this opens our hearts, even as it breaks them, and invites us to become the new creation over and over. That’s why we do it week after week, year after year. We receive not because we are holy but in hopes of becoming holy.
One of the saddest episodes in the debacle, which is our current political climate, is the desire of some American Catholic bishops (against the counsel of the Pope) to deny President Biden to receive Communion because of his position on women’s reproductive rights. No matter what side of that issue we embrace, using it, or any other position or action, as a barrier to a table of grace so real and present as to leave none who comes to it unchanged, is an abomination. No one—no bishop, no priest, no principality—owns the grace and mercy of God; and to believe for one moment that it can be meted out to only those worthy of receiving it, I believe, breaks the heart of God.
With any luck, my getting on this high horse of righteous indignation will lead me to look inside as much as I dare to see the ways that I, or more likely the strong views I hold, may keep others out. None of us is immune to such practice, to exclusion, to treating even our faith community as some kind of club with all sorts of insider language and admission procedures. We are the recipients of God’s love, not its protectors.
We are called to share it, to give it as freely as it has been given to us, even when, especially when, it is hardest to do.