The Politics of Communion
I had an interesting phone conversation last week.
Today, America will choose who will be President for the next four years. Our church building is a polling center. And we are participating in the Election Day Communion event.
These facts all mean that last week, I had to call our county’s Board of Election to figure out exactly what sorts of signs we were allowed to put up. And since we’re offering communion throughout the day, for voters to partake in after they vote, I wanted to be sure we weren’t violating any poll laws.
The person with whom I spoke (who was helpful and kind) essentially told me any political signs had to be 100 feet away from the entrances, but when it came to communion, we could do whatever we wanted.
The County Board of Elections clearly doesn’t consider receiving Communion to be a political event.
I can’t help but think of Pilate’s conversation with Jesus recorded in John 18. Pilate knows that Jesus is charged with treason against Rome. With claiming that someone other than Caesar is king (in this case, Jesus himself). Here’s a bit from their conversation:
Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him. Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” — John 18:33-36 (NLT, emphasis mine)
Pilate is a mid-level bureaucrat. His goal is to keep peace, to maintain the status quo, which is the Roman rule. He can’t comprehend how Jesus represents a threat to him. What kind of king lets himself get captured and killed? Despite his confusion, he has Jesus killed to keep the peace, to ensure that everyone knows that Caesar is still king.
For Pilate, Jesus’ broken body isn’t a sign of kingship, it’s a sign of failure.
John’s readers know different. We know that Jesus’ crucifixion was actually how he was installed on the throne of Heaven (John 3:13-15). We know that his broken body and spilled blood provide the way for us to participate in God’s kingdom (John 6:54-56). We know that the Communion Table is the model of divine power we’re called to emulate, a power that looks like washing feet (John 13:1-15).
Moreover, by participating in the Communion Meal, Christians explicitly reject the claims to ultimate authority all governments make. Rome claimed theirs was the eternal empire. Presidents from Lincoln to Regan to (presidential-hopeful) Romney claim America is “the hope of the world“. We know that the only hope for this world lies not in earthly governments, but in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We remember and proclaim that every time we share communion.
For Christians, the Communion Meal is an explicitly political act.
Receiving Communion is how we say that we will not partake in the fighting and division that characterize American politics.
Receiving Communion is how we say that our hope is built not on who’s in the White House, but on nothing less than Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Receiving Communion is how we embrace those who are not like us – just like God embraced us, rather than fearing or hating the Other.
Both American political parties should fear the power of the Communion Table. Because Jesus’ body and blood remind us that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can save us. The Meal reminds us where our help really comes from, and it’s not Washington.
Can you imagine how our politicians would react if the Church received Communion together?
What if we were so busy caring for unwed mothers and fighting poverty we didn’t have time to argue about Abortion?
What if we were so caught up in building bridges of understanding through love and friendship to the Gay community we forgot to argue about Gay Marriage?
What if we considered creation a good gift to be stewarded, regardless of our position on climate change.
What if we loved our enemies and prayed for our persecutors, and so stood with one voice against the drone wars?
What if we were all so generous with our money and so committed to a simple lifestyle that economic woes didn’t threaten us?
If these were our responses to the Communion Meal, our nation would in fact tremble. If our government truly understood what happens at Jesus’ Table, they’d make laws against it. Because our unity would be a threat to every politician who relies on fear and negativity to get (re)elected. They’d tell us to keep our Communion Table far away from the polls.
Jesus’ broken body is a threat to every earthly government.
But of course Pilate will never understand what kind of king Jesus is. Our Kingdom is not of this World. Our God doesn’t rule like the Republicans or the Democrats. Our God rules by dying, not killing.
The LORD is king! Let the nations tremble! He sits on his throne between the cherubim. Let the whole earth quake! –Psalm 99:1 (NLT)