Monday, February 5, 2024

Gluten Free Worship

Three weeks
ago I started a gluten-free diet. I had been having digestive issues for six months and nothing seemed to resolve the problems. So I decided to try an alternative diet for a while and see if it helps. So far so good. I read that six weeks is a good trial period for this diet. So I am halfway there. Then I will decide whether to make it permanent.

Yesterday was the first time I came to the Lord’s Table gluten free. Our church has had a gluten free option for communion for a long time, including during the time I served as the pastor here years ago. But I had never partaken of the gluten free wafers. Last Sunday I did.  

It made communion feel different. First of all, I saw two different type of “bread” on the plate. One was made of wheat and one of rice. It immediately said “duality” to me rather than unity. I had always approached communion as a symbolic meal proclaiming union with God. That is the literal meaning of the word communion – union with. That is the symbolism of the one cup and one loaf.  How do two breads communicate oneness? 

Then I thought again. The intent of offering the gluten free “bread” is inclusion.  People who previously were unable to partake of both elements were now included in the symbolic meal. I was being included. The two breads were communicating openness and oneness. Two is one. Gluten free communion is another form of “open communion.” 

This message was reinforced by something that happened at the very beginning of the Lord’s Supper. The small children in the congregation were invited by the pastor to come forward and partake of the elements first.  As the adults waited in the pews, five small children – all under the age of six - came forward to partake of communion. This was different for me, and it got me thinking. 

I come from a tradition where communion is taken only by “believers.” And it happens only after believers baptism, which occurs only after “the age of accountability,” which is considered to be the age when a person is mature enough to make a spiritual decision. Even then we Christians find all sorts of other reasons to prevent people from taking communion: theology, denominational affiliation, church membership, morality, sexuality, politics.... We are very good at finding ways to exclude people! 

Yet God is always available to all. So why make our rituals more exclusive than God? When Jesus’ disciples prevented children from seeing him, Jesus insisted that they come to the front of the line. “Let the little children come to me and forbid them not, for of such are the Kingdom of God.” In worship last Sunday these little children represented a more open attitude to the Lord’s Supper.  As the prophet said, “And a little child shall lead them....”  

Jesus said that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of God. He said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us and all around us. Our religious rituals should reflect that reality rather than obfuscate it. So should our theology. This old preacher learned a couple of things about openness last Sunday. Old symbols yielded new meaning. Whenever that happens, I count it to be a good Sunday.  


Judy English said...

Thank you for this blog, Marshall. Although I do not adhere to a gluten-free diet myself, I am glad to learn that this alternative is available for Communion. I didn't know this because, while I am playing, the elements are brought to me and I don't see the actual Communion plate. So we both learned something yesterday! I also like your perspective about two breads indicating inclusion and also having the children come up for Communion. I, too, was brought up that one did not receive the elements until of "older" years. I really appreciate Pastor Deb and the leadership of the church in Sandwich, who make these things possible.

Heartfelt said...

Actually, I felt the most at- One taking part in Communion a few weeks ago when Pastor Tim Sheets of the Oasis Church in Ohio, when coming to the Communion meal of the Sunday service which I was watching televised, reached out to all of those taking part through tv, and asked that we each take a piece of bread and friut juice or wine at the place we were at to receive the sacred Body & Blood. I felt the closeness of God so much more directly than kneeling or standing at an altar where I must depend on some intermediary.

Steve Reid said...

Last Sunday we had communion at the UCC church my wife and I attend, and some of the congregation's children participated, helping to serve the bread and cup. I found receiving communion from a child to be a moving experience and am also grateful that the church has an open table that excludes no one.