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 atonement…is it still communion?

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

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  1. Una Malachica says

    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.

  2. Rev. Jeremy Smith says

    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.

  3. Sky McCracken says

    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.


  4. Carolyn says

    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.

  5. scituatedrev says

    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!

  6. Kirk VanGilder says

    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.

  7. Kirk VanGilder says

    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.

  8. Kirk VanGilder says

    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."

    • says

      My main reply to this thread already addresses the primary concerns of Kevin Van Glider regarding the language of blood in the Eucharist. However, I feel it is important to reinforce this argument, by correcting several apparent historical misunderstandings that Ken VanGlider was laboring under, at least four years ago when this thread was discussed. Understanding the history of the early Church is vital; without it, many of the practices of the Orthodox faith as received by Methodism seem utterly incomprehensible. Unfortuantely, in recent decades, poor catechesis and theological education have caused many Methodists to suffer severe confusion, and even to fall under demonic influence as a result of delusion, due to a lack of proper education in the origins of the Christian faith. One can be driven away from Christianity and into outright apostasy over the horror that might result from not being able to understand the theology of blood, and the Methodist church has in recent decades failed, in many tragic cases, to teach this theology properly.

      Firstly, to the bitter regret of many early Popes, Rome never unilaterally presided over the early church. Historically, Rome had the primacy of honor among the three Petrine sees, the others, in order of dignity, being Alexandria, the See of St. Mark, and Antioch, where Peter first served as Bishop. Because these were the Petrine sees, and because Rome in particular was both the capital and where Peter and Paul were martyred, along with St. Ignatius, the third Bishop of Antioch, at the very end of the Apostolic Age, and the beginning of the Patristic age, in the second and third centuries, the other Churches looked up to these three Petrine sees for guidance.

      Each church in the early church resembled the Congregational polity; it was led by its own Bishop, who conducted the service of Holy Communion. As the church expanded, satellite churches were formed, and the rank of Priest (or Presbyter, from which the English “Priest” is etymologically derived, giving it a somewhat different inplication than the Roman Pontifex or Sacerdos), which was initially synonymous with Bishop, was separated, and applied to the Elders, who were given charge of the satellite churches in what became known as dioceses, vicariously representing their Bishop in consecrating the Eucharist. The regional Bishops in turn looked up to the Petrine bishops, but were not directly under their rule; the entire system was founded upon mutual respect and love.

      As time passed, the Bishops in the capital of each province received the dignity of Metropolitans, and the local Bishops were obliged to follow their lead; this was largely in response to a series of schisms resulting from heresy in the early church. The Bishops of the Petrine sees came to be known as Patriarchs; the Roman and Alexandrian Patriarchs are now more commonly referred to as Popes. To give you an idea of the diversity of Christian church polity, which has never once disappeared, there are at present three Popes presiding over major congregations: the Roman Catholic Pope Francis, the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa in the Holy See of St. Mark the Apostle, presently Tawadros II, and the Greek Orthodox Pope and Patriarch of the Great City of Alexandria, Libya, the Pentapolis, Ethiopia All Land of Egypt and All Africa, presently Theodore II.

      After the Edict of Milan, the Emperor Constantine moved the Roman capital to the small Greek city of Byzantion, enlarging it considerably and renaming it Constantinopolis (and thus accomplishing what Nero apparently failed to do, in a sure demonstration of the power of faith in Christ). This city naturally became an important see, eventually usurping Alexandria and becoming second in dignity. Constantine, and his wife St. Helena, also resolved to restore Jerusalem, which the Romans had horribly damaged in the second century; the Christian community had not had a bishop in Jerusalem since that time. WIth Jerusalem rebuilt, and made a center of religious pilgrimage, it naturally became the fifth major Patriarchal see of the Catholic church, creating what is referred to as the Pentarchy. Edessa, Nibilis and Seleucia-Ctesiphon were also of great importance, especially to the Eastern Syriac Christians.

      Now, in the Fifth century, a series of schisms tore this hierarchy apart, at least on the service. Within the Greco-Roman Catholic Orthodox church that emerged after Chalcedon, only two Patriarchies remained of any political importance, Constantinople and Rome, but these remained fiercely independent of each other. Latin was never enforced as the official language of the entire church, rather, only of the Western provinces under the ecclesiastical authority of the Pope of Rome. The Greek, and the emerging Slavic dioceses under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople spoke Koine Greek and Church Slavonic, respectively. Meanwhile, the Coptic Pope of Alexandria remained intact, and his independence was greatly enhanced by the Islamic conquest of Egypt, which separated his see from Imperial control, and marginalized the rival community of “Melchites” who remained in communion with Constantinople. The Melchites of course spoke Greek, and the Copts, Coptic. The Coptic Patriarch also supervised the Ethiopian church, which used the Ge’ez language, the only written language of Sub-Saharan Africa; although the Ethiopian church had a great deal of autonomy, and developed its own highly distinctive liturgical and theological tradition.

      The Syriac Christians likewise remained largely independent of Roman and Constantinopolitan control; the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, in full communion with the Coptic Pope, and the Catholicos of Armenia, led his community in the use of a Syriac translation of the Divine Liturgy of St. James, which is also one of the richest liturgical traditions of ancient Christianity; the Syriac church boasts more than eighty different Anaphoras or Eucharistic prayers, of which around eighteen have been translated into English, and in the United States, four are in common usage (the four which happen to have been translated into both English and Arabic, which has become the vernacular language of many Copts). The Melchite Patriarch of Antioch, who reported to Constantinople, initially used Syriac and Greek, but over time, discontinued the liturgical use of Syriac, and the Divine Liturgy of St. James, adopting a strictly Byzantine Rite liturgy after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453; since that time, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, have adapted to primarily use Arabic in their liturgy. The Copts now use Arabic mainly, although still favor Coptic for liturgical purposes. The Armenians never used Latin in their liturgy, but fiercely kept their ancient language, proud of their status as the first country to adopt Christianity. The Assyrians, who lived primarily in the Persian Empire and Central Asia following the Nestorian Schism at the Council of Ephesus, spoke the East Syriac dialect of Aramaic. The Maronites, who later became part of the Roman Catholic Church, used West Syriac; they believe themselves to be the descendants of the Phoenicians, although historical evidence suggests that they are in fact a schismatic breakaway sect of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

      Now, what this should tell us, is that the only thing that really changed during the Nestorian Schism, the Chalcedonian Schism, the Maronite Schism, and the Great Schism of 1054, was communion. All of the historic Patriarchs have retained until the present day their historic power; the only difference is they fell out of communion with one another. Never did the Pope of Rome even come close to having a position of supreme ecclesiastical authority over the entire church. The Great Schism resulted from the attempt of the Pope to impose his will on the Ecumenical Patriarch, which failed, and led to the great divorce of Greek and Roman Christianity. These schisms are now being healed; most of the aforementioned Patriarchs have lifted their mutual anathemas of one another, and some have entered a state approaching that of communion (the relationship between the Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Popes, and between the Antiochian and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs, for example).

      Thus, the premise of Ken Van Glider that it was Roman authority, and enforced Latinization, simply does not apply. While it is true that in the Roman Catholic church, the liturgy was no longer understood by a large portion of the laity (although the intellectual class always knew Latin, and at least initially, the Vulgar Latin dialects were close enough to Ecclesiastical Latin so that the congregants could “make it out”), other Christian communities continued to use their vernacular languages. The Coptic Church, which fell out of communion with Rome at Chalcedon due to the Christological feud between Popes Dioscorus and Leo X, continued to speak Coptic, which was at the time the vernacular language of the Egyptian people. The Syriac churches spoke their respective vernacular language; while most Syriac Orthodox no longer use West Syriac as their primary conversational language, Assyrian remains the vernacular language of most parishioners of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The Armenians spoke Armenians, and, for the express purpose of evangelizing the Slavs, the Greek Orthodox missionaries developed Church Slavonic, a sort of pan-Slavic language, complete with the Cyrillic alphabet, to ease the process of teaching the Christian faith to a diverse population of Slavic communities from Bulgaria through Russia. Finally, the Romanian Orthodox Church, while always in communion with Constantinople, had the peculiarity of existing in a land that spoke one of the four main Vulgar Latin dialects, which ultimately became the Romanian language. Thus, here was a church where a vernacular language, derived from Latin, was used liturgically, and understood by the people.

      Even at the height of the Roman Church’s enforced use of liturgical Latin, I would estimate at least a third of all Christians worldwide were members of churches that continued to celebrate the Eucharist in a vernacular language, or at least, a liturgical language close enough to the vernacular so as to be comprehensible.

    • says

      There is one other significant problem with Kirk VanGlider’s proposal:

      The theology of blood is actually still relevant, if not more relevant, now, in our world of increased violence, than it was during the time of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire never had an exclusive monopoly on the use of violence; untold hundreds of millions throughout the bloody history of the human race before Christ sacrificed themselves on the field of battle. To worship their Gods, including our God, they sacrificed animals, shedding the blood of cattle, and a multitude of other creatures, in the honor of their deities; these sacrifices were intended to atone for the sin, and cultivate the blessings of the deity.

      Christ changed all this. Through his ministry, he made us realize that the sanguinary, violent way in which we had been living was sinful and evil. He, through his very bloody sacrifice on the cross, abolished all animal sacrifices in perpetuity, at least as far as Orthodox Christianity is concerned. Some marginal groups on the fringes of Christianity still practice sacrificial rituals, but these are universally condemned by the church hierarchy, and have been since the Apostles came to understand the propitiary nature of Christ’s crucifixion, who trampled down death by death. For God to sacrifice himself, in perhaps the most gruesome way possible, perfects and completes the blood sacrifices, instituted by Abel. The blood sacrifice of Abel, a flawed, imperfect, yet endearing action, pleasing to God, was the prototype for Christ’s own sacrifice, which so infinitely surpasses the petty animal sacrifices previously offered for the purpose of atonement, that it perpetuates the forgiveness of our sins, and represents the supreme victory of love.

      As we contemplate the blood of Christ, his wounds, so infinitely glory, let us again refer to the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom: “Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.” It is the shed blood of Christ, his death, that has truly defeated death; “Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!”

      Let us consider Psalm 23: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Surely this is a Christological prophecy: the table represents the Last Supper, that we mystically join in the Eucharist, before which Christ was anointed by the sinner commonly (mis)identified with Mary Magdalene. The enemies represent Judas, and perhaps all of humanity, to the extent that we sin against the love of Christ, through murder, theft, idolatry, lasciviousness, gluttony and indeed through heresy. The overflowing cup, is the cup of the New Testament, poured out for many, for the remission of sins, that is to say, the blood of Christ. “He who seraphim fear to look at, you behold in bread and wine on the altar!” exclaims the Metrical Homily of Jacob of Sarugh, which is sung in the Syriac Orthodox Church while the faithful are communed.

      Thus, while the shedding of human blood is an act of evil, and the shedding of animal blood as a sacrifice, while noble and pleasing to God, was ultimately almost infinitely insufficient for our redemption, the shedding of Christ’s blood is the ultimate act of good. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In throwing down His own life to procure the glorious resurrection, not just of Himself, but of all humanity, Christ sanctified his divine blood; one might argue that the blood and body of Christ, which we partake of in the heavenly banquet of the Eucharist, represents the supreme encounter with the Divine possible in this life. The Catholic faith understands the bread and wine consecrated on the Altar is the holiest substance in the known universe, for it is the body and blood of Christ, offered by us and for us, the supreme gift of God to recover his lost sheep and treat the painful wound of sin, the sting of death.

      “Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee!” proclaims the Priest in the DIvine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Likewise, the prayers of the Tridentine mass refer to Christ willfully giving himself up a ransom for many: “…as it pleased thee to accept the gifts of thy just servant Abel, the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham, and what thy high priest Melchisedech offered unto thee as a holy sacrifice, an immaculate victim.” The blood shed by Christ not only sanctifies us and justifies us, but it also consecrates the life of every human being freely given for the sake of others.

      How many heroes died in the twentieth century, in the World Wars, in Korea, in Viet Nam, and myriad other conflicts? How many threw down their lives, for the sake of freedom, their homeland, their faith, or their comrades? How many Christians, for that matter, willfully endured brutal execution by the Roman Empire, and continue in this day to endure brutal execution at the hands of Islamic extremists and Communist partisans?

      Horatius, of whom Macaulay wrote “And how can man die better, Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his gods,” represents a prototype of the sacrifice of Christ. The heroes who have perished in battle since then, to name a few recent examples, Admiral Nelson, General Gordon of Khartoum, Admirals Scott and Callaghan of the Second World War, Major Rudolf Anderson, perhaps the highest ranking casualty of the Cold War, and countless others, represent an icon of Christ, to the extent that they surrender their own life for the safety of others. To deprecate the theology of blood, for fear of offending the sensibilities of a modern congregation shell-shocked by HIV, AIDS and terrorism, would dishonor these heroes, and indeed the heroes of our own time (Todd Beamer, who famously said “Let’s roll!” before leading the passengers of Flight 91 in a desperate charge to take back control from the terrorists, comes to mind; his action may have saved thousands of lives in Washington DC, had flight 91 actually struck the vicinity of the Capitol). In giving up their lives, these heroes typify the saving work of Christ, and participate in His Glory. Let us not trample on their graves by discarding the theology of blood, for the sake of political correctness.

      Equally representative of Christ are the martyrs of Christianity throughout the ages. Let us remember St. Abanoub, a 12 year old boy, tortured for weeks by the Egyptians, before finally being beheaded, who according to the Coptics regularly appears in spectral form in their parishes; let us remember St. George, a dashing young tribune and the favorite of Diocletian, who suddenly discovered Christ, and boldly defied his Emperor to proclaim his faith, and was thus brutally killed; let us remember the myriad Christians who died in the arena. While the heroes of war form in their sacrifice icons of Christ giving himself up for the salvation of many, the Christian martyrs on the other hand form an icon of Christ’s complete and passive participation in his demise; of his willful surrender of life itself, that we might all be born again with him, that we, like Barrabas, might dine with him in Paradise.

      St. Ignatius, the third Bishop of Antioch, was condemned to a horrible death by the Romans during the first wave of persecutions. As he travelled under Roman guard from Antioch to Rome, he wrote epistles to the various churches located along the way, begging them not to intervene. “The goals of the earth and the kingdoms of this world shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die for the sake of Jesus Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth. I seek Him who died for us. I desire Him who rose. My birth-pains are upon me. Forgive me, brethren, hinder me not from entering into life; desire not my death. Consign not to the world one who yearns to be God’s; nor tempt me with the things of this life. Suffer me to receive pure light. When I come thither then shall I be a man indeed. Suffer me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any man has Him dwelling in him, he will understand my desire and feel with me, knowing what constrains me….”

      Thus, we can see the ultimate truth of the Orthodox faith of the Apostles, as so brilliantly taught by Father Steven Behr, of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Christ, as God, showed us in his death what it means to be human. The blood of the God-man Christ is the blood of life, given to us freely in the Eucharist in the form of wine. St. Ignatius did not truly believe himself to be alive, until he had repeated the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. “Birth pangs are upon me … hinder me not from entering into life … suffer me to receive pure life.” Ignatius discovered that to become fully human, he had to willfully follow in the footsteps of Christ, giving himself up to be devoured be lions in the arena, as a final act of mercy, for just as Christ feeds us with his body and blood, so to did Ignatius willingly feed his own body and blood for the sustenance of the dumb beasts to which he was consigned. Christ, through His bloody death showed us what it means to be human; in like manner, through His glorious resurrection, Christ proved to us that He is God. Ignatius and the other martyrs attained their humanity by shedding their blood, in imitation of Christ, and in so doing, proved to the ancient world, which was incomparably more violent and bloodthirsty than any of us, even in our depraved modern era, that there was a better way. Through their death, they direct us to the teachings of Christ, showing us that we must love one another, and not delight in killing.

      Christ became man, so that we might become like God, not in the sense of becoming members of the Trinity, but in the sense of participating in his divine energies, namely love, iconically representing Christ and partaking of His divine nature in the Eucharist; in so doing, we are teaching the world how to be human. Until men cast off their vile passions and follow in the footsteps of their lord, they are homo sapiens, but they are not truly Human until they represent in thought and deed their savior Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in communion through the Holy Spirit with the Father. Discard the theology of blood and this is lost.

      Which takes us to my final point. “What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate. This question I direct with the most sincere gravity to any readers of this blog. Do you view the Gospel as some mutable document, that mythologically represents the ideals of humanism, that can be modified and reinterpreted in any number of divergent ways, to suit the perceived needs of contemporary society? Do you even believe that truth exists? JB Lightfoot famously preached about Pontius Pilate in St. Pauls: “Truth might do well enough for fools and enthusiasts, for simple men; but for rulers, for diplomatists, for men of the world, it was the wildest of all wild dreams. Truth! What was truth? He had lived too long in the world to trust any such hollow pretensions.”

      Through fervent prayer, Methodists can seek the Catholic faith; through repentance, and the action of the Holy Spirit we can discover, as St. George did, our Savior Jesus Christ, and learn from Him what it means to be human. Once we have truly encountered God, we will understand with loving sympathy the dilemma posed by Pilate’s question, for one cannot know what truth is, without knowing what it means to be human; one might say, Cogito ergo sum, yet I would counter that the real trick is being able to fully understand the definition of “I”; and with that, as Christ said in his last dying breath, as he surrendered life itself, so that death might be trampled down in victory, “It is finished.”

  9. Scott says

    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.

  10. johnmeunier says

    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.

  11. Anonymous says

    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!" ?

  12. PamBG says

    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.

  13. Carolyn says

    @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.

  14. Creed Pogue says

    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.

  15. Rev. Jeremy Smith says

    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 homogeneity…so 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?

  16. Carolyn says

    @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.

  17. Sky McCracken says

    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.

  18. Elizabeth Sweeny says

    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.)

  19. Creed Pogue says

    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.

  20. pastorbecca says

    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.

  21. Anonymous says

    "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.


  22. Sky McCracken says

    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.


  23. Matt Algren says

    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.

  24. says

    It is not inherently objectionable to add to the liturgical tradition; Theodore of Mopsuestia was criticized a bit unfairly by Leontius when the latter said “”not content with drafting a new creed, he sought to impose upon the church a new Anaphora,” for John Chrysostom had done the same thing and had not incurred posthumous Imperial scorn. However, Mopsuestia, would have been sparred the condemnation he received, a hundred or more years after his demise, at the second Council of Constantinople, had his theology, like that of his friend John Chrysostom, been more genuinely orthodox. The intense respect he once enjoyed, his friendship with the august “Golden tongued” patriarch of Constantinople, and his standing in the Antiochene theological tradition were not enough to compensate for the role he apparently played in the development of the Nestorian heresy.

    In like manner, Rev. Jeremy Smith has erred, not through daring to revise the Methodist liturgy, but through the fact that his revisions are, to be rather blunt, blasphemous. The least serious of them involves redacting the language of blood, to avoid disturbing the children, and those shell shocked by years of terrorism, war and acts of insane and depraved violence. However, Smith fails to realize that it is by the very life giving blood of Christ that we are saved from that utter darkness. Christians, even young children, must look in horror upon the bleeding, disfigured Christ on Good Friday, and must understand that through his infinite and inexhaustible supply of precious and life giving blood, our redemption is procured.

    The importance of the Christology of Blood is an imperative even if you do not rely primarily on a Blood Atonement model of soteriology. I myself view with some disdain the Vicarious Satisfaction theology of Anselm of Canterbury, which is based on the idea that God’s wounded honor must be restored, and the only way to do that is through the death of his only begotten son; even more dreadful is Calvin’s penal substitution theology, which obliterates salvation through the person of Christ, and relies entirely on his saving work; this was rather brilliantly corrected within the Calvinist tradition by Mercersburg theology, which represents a real path for Calvinist churches to escape from the chains of heterodoxy.

    However, if the Calvinists labor under the chains of heterodoxy, then the Methodist congregations upon which Rev. Smith has inflicted this dreadful anaphora have veritably crushed under the anvil of blasphemy, for removing Christ’s blood from the Eucharistic narrative does incredible violence to the story of Christian redemption. Many children, especially those who have been poorly catechized, do have reactions to their first communion that may seem inappropriate; I myself am very blessed, because from the first time I can remember taking communion at the age of 5, I was swept away by a spiritual force, that initially manifested itself in a surrealistically wonderful flavor, and later, on subsequent occasions, through a profound sense of what Unitarian theologians of the early 19th century liked to refer to as “transportation.”

    I am for this manner a huge fan of the Eastern praxis of communing infants with small drops of wine or grapcejuice, with a tiny particle of blood, from the day of their baptism. If the child grows up receiving communion before they are even able to understand the meaning of the word “blood”, they will not be troubled by the Eucharistic liturgy, nor shall their imaginations run amok with cannibalistic or vampirical imagery; in a proper liturgy, that stresses the absolute divinity of the Eucharistic liturgy, and stresses in absolute terms the solemnity of Holy Communion, they will understand it from the moment their cognitive faculties grant them this ability, as an encounter with the living Son of God in Heaven, a communion with Christ and his disciples; a literal and mystical presence at the Last Supper, when Christ effected the sacrifice of his Divine person for our salvation, which is the central mystery of the Christian faith.

    The importance of the language of blood to the Eucharist is further underscored by the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom. Chrysostom, as his Paschal Homily will reveal, is one of the most ardent champions of the “Christus Victor” model of soteriology. In his Paschal homily he wrote “Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns!”

    Yet this did not stop him from saying, in his Divine Liturgy “Wash away, Lord, by Your holy Blood, the sins of all those commemorated through the intercessions of the Theotokos and all Your saints.” Yet he also makes this critically important point in another prayer of the same liturgy: “The Lamb of God is broken and distributed; broken but not divided. He is forever eaten yet is never consumed, but He sanctifies those who partake of Him.” We must not forget that unlike humans, who have finite amounts of flesh and blood, and are mortal, Christ, though complete in His humanity, through his divinity, offers us an inexhaustible font of His precious and life giving body, and the blood of the New Testament, which we partake of for the remission of our manifold sins. The Eucharist is not an act of theological cannibalism; rather, it is tantamount to a mother taking her child to her breast; yet Christ feeds us not through milk, but through his very flesh and blood, in the form of bread and wine, for He had to die for our sins, in order to procure our Resurrection, in the flesh, and the Life of the World to Come.

    Now, the far more serious dogmatic transgression occurs in the blotting out of Masculine language. Christ WAS male, and, in a bold departure from Jewish tradition, which prefers not to relate to God using any human language, in the manner also seen in Islam, taught us that we should dare to call upon our Heavenly God as Father. The identification of God in the person of the male gender is not a slur against His exquisitely beautiful and precious daughters, from Adam’s beautiful, tragically innocent and naive companion Eve, who was led astray by the cruelty of Satan, through the great matriarchs of Judaism: Sarah, Rebecca, Esther, Ruth, and the beautiful, mysterious and alluring Queen of Sheba, who according to the wonderfully romantic Golden Legend, prophesied that the wood from a bridge she and King Solomon crossed during her stay with him, would be made into the cross on which Christ would ultimately suffer. Whether true or not, the mythology of the Golden Legend represents the romantic soul of Latin Christianity, just as the Philokalia represents the exquisite severity of Byzantine ascetism.

    The inescapable fact that God has identified Himself as male, and created Adam in his image, and then the female gender as a variation on the type of the male gender, to facilitate His spectacular design of sexual reproduction, through which the natural adaptation of His living creatures to their environment is assured, and indescribable joy, pleasure and comfort is given to the members of both genders, who together in their Matrimonial union form an icon of the ineffable and incomparable state of divine love that is the Trinity, does not mean that women are deprecated or inferior. While I cannot dare to presume to know the thoughts of our eternal and long-suffering Father, whose mere Essense lies entirely beyond the limits of my own meager comprehension, one might wonder that perhaps in God’s eyes, women are uniquely special, because they represent a variation from His type, whereas men, created more precisely in His image, ironically represent him. Thus in women, an element of mystery and uncertainty is added to Creation, that facilitates our movement towards our ultimate heavenly reunion with our Father, who in the ultimate victory of love, will joyously receive his daughters and his sons with equal love and affection, and indeed, gender will at that point cease to matter, for “they shall be neither male nor female.”

    Consider the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, literally, “Birth giver of God”, and not just of Christ, a misconception common among Protestants that lies at the root of the Nestorian heresy, “more honorable than the seraphim, and more infinitely glorious beyond compare than the cherubim,” as the Eastern liturgies proudly assert. Consider also Mary of Bethany, Margaret, Mary Magdalene (who was probably not . as St. Gregory the Dialogist proposed, the former prostitute who annointed Jesus’s feet with her tears, but rather, was a different person entirely, an upright and virtuous woman, Equal to the Apostles). The holiness of these women, and of the thousands of female Christian martyrs that followed in their footsteps, fully refutes the idea that God, because of His male gender, scorns upon women; if anything, His masculine nature might cause him to regard women in a certain special light, that while not different in the quantity of love heaped upon them, which like that given to men, is infinite and inexhaustible, may differ in its quality. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware rightly said that to redefine God the Father as a Mother Goddess, as Elaine Pagels and many feminist theologians seek to do, would be to leave Christianity behind, and form in its place an entirely new and different religion. If the Trinity loses its Masculinity, than the virgin birth loses its relevance, and Mary herself, who is surely the blessed Mother of the Church, loses her theological meaning. From thence, the entire house of cards collapses, and we might just as well discard the whole works, and join the existing Vietnamese Mother Goddess religion, much enjoyed by the adventurous Anglican vicar Peter Owen Jones in his fantastic documentary series, Around The World In 80 Faiths.

    In summary, Christ, the Son of God the Father, did save us, through the shedding of His precious and life-giving Blood, propitiated through the Sacrifice of the Last Supper, and given to us freely in the Eucharist. Let us praise God and glorify Him, and remember in our prayers this advent season our most pure and ever-virgin Mary, who conquered inconceivable fear in agreeing to bear Jesus, and the vast chorus of female saints from both the Old and the New Testament, also including St. Anna, St. Barbara, St. Susanna the Virgin, St. Helena, St. Brigitta, St. Clare of Assisi, and all others from the vast cloud of Christian witnesses of the female gender of our own time, whose femininity is made that much more special and important by virtue of its differentiation from the masculine identity of God, a reflection of the grandeur and incomprehensible beauty of His glorious creation.

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