Friday, February 16, 2007

A Curious Interpretation

Seven Primates of the Global South have just released a statement that they will not receive Eucharist with our Presiding Bishop, ++Katharine Jefferts Schori. This is not so much a surprise, although the group has apparently diminished from the 14 who refused communion with our last Presiding Bishop -- perhaps a hopeful sign.

What is curious is the justification used. First, the admonition from Matthew 5:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, and then this passage from the Book of Common Prayer:
Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith.
It may just be me, but all of these passages point to individual decisions to attend Eucharist, not to conditions laid down for others who also might be attending. Put another way, these passages do not call me to examine my brother's or sister's conscience or repentance, but my own. "When you are offering your gift at the altar," says Jesus to his disciples. "Examine yourselves," writes Paul to the Church in Corinth. And the passage from the Book of Common Prayer, as read in context, is clearly calling me to examine my own life.

How have I been reconciling? How have I been reaching out in peace to my neighbor? How have I been endeavoring to follow God's call to me?

If I have been engaging in these redemptive and graceful acts in Christ, I may then approach the Table of God and receive.

In this particular case, even if the seven Primates believe Katharine Jefferts Schori and, for that matter, the Episcopal Church, is unrepentant and sinful, that is on our heads, not theirs. Her conscience and actions (or inactions) are not prerequisite conditions, if I read these passages correctly, for their attending eucharist.

It is, well, a curious interpretation, rooted in a sense of reconciliation that demands repentance of the other. If this were indeed applied thoroughly in my life, I would never be able to approach the Table of God. There are those in communion with the Church who have not repented of the the harms they have done me or my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I have endeavored to reach out to them, in as much grace as has been given me, for reconciliation. Sometimes I have fallen short in this and so much else, as we all have. So I approach the Table, but I hope with some degree of humility.

I will only concede that these Primates are acting this way because they wish to make a statement: that they believe the Episcopal Church is wrong. And because of that, they believe the Anglican Communion vis-a-vis the Episcopal Church is broken:
This deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion. It makes clear that the torn fabric of the Church has been torn further. It is a consequence of the decision taken by our provinces to declare that our relationship with The Episcopal Church is either broken or severely impaired.
Fine. I understand that much. It's their choice not to attend. But their justification from Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer is unnecessary, and moreover risks distorting the Christian message and eucharistic theology in these texts.

Tobias Haller also offers a most insightful take on this matter. Valuable commentary is appearing, too, over at Preludium.


June Butler said...

It may just be me, but all of these passages point to individual decisions to attend Eucharist, not to conditions laid down for others who also might be attending.

Oh, Richard, it's not just you. They get it so very wrong. The Gospel passage is in no way about examining other people's consciences. We approach the table of the Lord in all humility because of our own sinfulness.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Often my mother used to say, "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." I think this applies to the inability to commune with others because of their so called sins. Sort of like the splinter and the log.

Like you, I was glad to see the numbers diminished. It gives their position less legs, literally and figuratively ;-)