So, it seems there’s an ever-widening movement to admit unbaptized people to communion in the consecrated bread and wine, which are the Body and Blood of Jesus. This is a radical innovation, of course, but those who lobby for it could not care less about such matters. Still, I have little to say either about them or to them, as argument and exegesis would fail to move them in any case. Besides, as in all reckless innovations, they have defined the terms and set the rhetoric (it’s an expansion of Inclusivity ® don’t you know, and therefore a matter of justice and openness etc etc). No, I am baffled more by those who want to partake of communion at the Eucharist even though they are not baptized.
See, it’s like this – the Eucharist of the Church is not a comforting ritual, a sign of natural human solidarity, or a means of making peace in a benighted world of violence and division. It is communion in the Body and Blood of Jesus the incarnate Son of God. To partake of communion in the Body and Blood is to partake of Life itself, and this Life is efficacious only for those who are properly dead and buried. Not dying, note – we are all of us dying every day, for we are frail mortal creatures winding down even as we are growing up in this world. No, we must finally be killed properly before we partake of the ‘medicine of immortality’ through participation in the Life of the Incarnate God. Then we can truly say with Paul that we are dead, and our life is hidden in Christ. How to get properly dead so that death itself is behind us and thus of no more importance than a hangnail, that is the question. The answer, of course, is baptism, which remains, regardless of what we make of it in our embrace of the insipid and banal, the ‘laver of regeneration’, a real participation in the death and burial of Jesus himself, all so that we might be raised by him to eternal life.
But of course we don’t have that eternal life unless we partake of the Body and Blood, that medicine of immortality for those who are dead and have their lives now hidden with Christ. It is also dare I say apocalyptic inasmuch as in the Eucharist we have here and now a manifestation of the Kingdom of God that is to come in its fullness when Jesus returns. So, just as baptism is not a pleasing ritual meant to supply some kind of meaning to our barren lives, so too the communion in the Body and Blood at the Eucharist is not just a sacred rite that can somehow help the unwashed.
So you see, I’m baffled as to why the unbaptized would even want to take communion, unless of course for them it is nothing more than a religious rite. That is to say, I imagine these folks, vague at best in what they imagine communion signifies, in various states of unbelief and belief, huddled together in the supposed comfort of a ritual that to their minds creates unity without the need for confession, that does not so much save them from death, hell, and the devil, as reflect their pleasing image of themselves as basically all right, though a little lonely in this barren, random universe. (This returns me to the larger issue of atheists especially taking to all manner of ritual, which of course has a religious origin, for the sake of comfort and community.) I suppose it goes without saying that this just might describe any given parish on any given Sunday, but that does not exactly commend the practice.
In any case, to so partake of communion transforms the sacrament of the Kingdom, the medicine of immortality for dead men and women, the forgiveness of sins and release from enslavement and ultimate perdition, into a communal fantasy. In this ‘vision’, we stand not before the King of the universe, the almighty Creator of all that is seen and unseen; rather, we stand before one another in our various solitary subjectivities. That may seem a decent way to pass the time, but it is not worship of the Trinity; it is not a seeking after mercy, truth, and life; and as such it is a singular waste of time, and not in a good way. Those who would encourage this insanity are themselves in grave danger – they trivialize the fear and love of God at the heart of true faith because they trivialize God himself.
People need community, solidarity, and occasionally the comfort of shared ritual I’m sure. They can more easily find that at a baseball game or a concert than at a Eucharist denuded of significance. One should only come to communion in the Body and Blood of Jesus looking for eternal life, and the way to that communion is narrow indeed – only through participation in the crucifixion and death of Jesus through baptism can one come to the Eucharist that is a foretaste of the feast to come.
Everything else is nonsense. If you don’t believe; if you are not even interested in seeing what’s really going on; then you’re better off just sleeping in on a Sunday morning than taking communion. Indeed, the classical confession of the Church is that should you partake of the Body and Blood in that way, then it is bad for you.* I say all this as a man who is not currently in communion with anyone, but who desperately desires the Body and Blood once more. I’m a dead man walking, you see, and I would like to live, truly live for all eternity in communion with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Whether in the meantime I’m comforted, find some connection to community, or whatever, or not, is accidental.
*Needless to say, this is not a warning to stay away from Sunday worship itself. I can’t seem to get that figured out, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy, good thing to simply stay away altogether. Come to the liturgy, if you can find it, by all means, just don’t take the consecrated bread and wine if you are not baptized and ready to confess the faith of the Church.