During my two decades as a Friend within the Evangelical sphere on influence, I have noticed two things when it comes to elemental (bread & wine, or juice) communion.  First, every book or article written by a Friend on the subject of the sacraments begins by lamenting the lack of understanding, by Quakers, of their own view of the ordinances.  Second, and I think this is mostly found within Evangelical Friends, is that elemental communion and non-elemental communion are, theologically and historically, roughly equal, but that Quakers prefer non-elemental communion.

I want to talk about the second thing that I've noticed, that it was simply a matter of preference when it came to not using bread and wine.   For some time, I thought that George Fox objected to a general lack of spiritual significance in communion as it was practiced by churches in England in the 17th-century.  Because Fox thought, I believed, that religious ordinances had become cultural and no longer conveyed deep spiritual truth, he decided that Friends should bypass elements like bread, wine and baptismal water and go straight to the truths behind them.  I am not sure if I was taught things like this, or simply absorbed them in church; but these things were what I came to believe to form the Quaker objection to outward elements.

This changed radically when I began to read George Fox's writings.  What I came to discover was that Fox objected to elemental communion, as based on a ritualization of the Lord's Supper.  The basis for his objection was thoroughly biblical.  For Fox, I Corinthians 11:26 was a key verse; in this verse, Paul, in addressing a problematic eating and drinking ritual that had developed at Corinth, cites that the Lord Jesus revealed to him that "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."  To Fox, the Lord had undeniably "come" and was present to His followers.  As another biblical citation, Fox looked to I John 5:20, which stated, "and we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in His Son, Jesus Christ."  If indeed Christ has come, as Fox believed, then any "time limit" for proclaiming Christ's death has expired.  Now was not the time to focus on Christ's death, but to "seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." (Colossians 3:1)  And it is this heavenly, ascended Christ that revealed to John, the Beloved Disciple, another meal that proclaimed Christ's presence and nearness:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."  (Revelations 3:20)  In this passage, Christ is proclaiming His potential intimacy with people, who merely have to lower their personal barriers in order for Christ to be present within them.  Fox looked upon this meal, sequentially the last supper presented in the Bible, as the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb", in which individuals become united with their Lord, the Lamb of God.

There are those, though, who have not participated in this Marriage Supper.  To them, Fox quotes 2 Corinthians 13:5: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.  Know ye not your own selves, how that Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (KJV)  It is vitally important to know Christ's presence within.  Only the meal described in Revelations 3:20 brings Christ within the individual; an elemental communion meal/ceremony only proclaims Christ's death without Christ "having come."  Fox frequently noted that Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed the Lord, participated in the supper prepared by Jesus.  Yet, it availed Judas nothing.  From Fox's point of view, earthly elements, even ones prepared by Christ, are completely ineffectual in translating an individual into eternal life.  Only the heavenly bread which comes down from above, the Living Bread, Jesus Christ, can give someone this grace.  And it is in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that provides us with that Bread.

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Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 7th mo. 15, 2011 at 12:18am
This is very interesting to me. Thanks for posting this.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 7th mo. 15, 2011 at 10:45am

The thought this brings to my mind... Fox's interpretation of John's statement: that "Christ enlightens everyone who comes into the world"-- implies that there never was a time or place where Christ had not come.

 

If it was okay for early Christians to celebrate the death of Jesus, then there was no particular time or place, not even 17th Century England, where it suddenly became inappropriate.

 

It was inappropriate for anyone who knew that Christ was present and active: "Can you expect the bridegroom's friends to go mourning while the bridegroom is with them?"

 

And today?

Comment by Rodney Guy Pharris on 7th mo. 16, 2011 at 11:18am
I appreciate the light that Forrest brought to this topic concerning the bridegroom.  Ought we to be proclaiming the bridegroom's death while he is here to be united with his bride?  Thank you, Forrest and Isabel.
Comment by Helen Bayes on 7th mo. 17, 2011 at 7:17am
I often think of the Last Supper when I sit down for a meal.  As I sense Jesus saying "Do this in remembrance of me", I see him tearing and sharing ordinary pitta bread and sipping ordinary wine.  So I look at my plate of rice and vegie curry, or my pumpkin soup and toast, and see this, a simple feast, as the remembrance of Jesus' request.  In these ordinary simple foods there is the presence of the physical body in which Jesus lived on earth - his body and his blood.  He lived and ate, we live and eat, and in any meal, I sense this daily closeness to him and Life as he taught and lived it.  It also represents the nourishment I receive in my relationship with God.  It reminds me of my dependance, of my mortality, and yet of the wonderful feast that Life is.  So each time I eat, it is a quiet inward communion that feeds my inward life as well as my body.  I thank God for fresh, simple food and for God's gentle guidance on living as a friend and follower of Jesus.  It seems rather like what Fox experienced - or at least is derived from his teaching.  A tiny wafer and a sip of wine seems to have nothing to do with it, to me.  But I do know that symbols can have deep meaning as well.
Comment by Rodney Guy Pharris on 7th mo. 17, 2011 at 6:28pm
Much of what you testify to, I can as well.  Just as I look to the food to satisfy my appetite, to give me energy and to fill my empty stomach, I look to Christ to satisfy my deepest desires, to energize me and to fill my emptiness.  What Fox found to be antithetical to "True Christianity" was to utilize the symbolic when the Real Presence is so readily available.
Comment by Helen Bayes on 7th mo. 18, 2011 at 1:03am
I have realised there is more for me to add.  The Last Supper is the story of Jesus serving his disciples.  He chose and booked the Upper Room (like he did the donkey), and probably arranged the supper meal, which was probably not just bread and wine.  Did it include hummus, tahini, stuffed vineleaves, falafel, tabouli, goat stew, chicken, pomegranate, grapes, figs?   All these wonderful foods remind me of the fertility and abundance of the Holy Land.  He broke the bread and passed it round.  He tasted the wine and passed it round too.  So the holy communion in a meal is one of service to others who are hungry and have work to do.  He is saying feed each other in remembrance of him.
Comment by Rodney Guy Pharris on 7th mo. 18, 2011 at 10:36am
I see the meal more in the vein of a typical Seder, with all the elements that go along with that.  Jesus, of course, transformed it; instead of the usual focus on the Exodus elements, Jesus instructed the disciples to take on a new focus: the Crucifixion elements.  As long as the disciples continued celebrating the Seder, they were now to think of Christ (his body broken, his blood shed), rather than the traditional Passover elements.
Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 11:29am
There's another aspect of the Last Supper that many ignore - Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. It was not just communion with God, but caring for one another.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 4:58pm
And letting God care for us, rather than thinking we need to do all the flailing on our own.
Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 7:01pm
Thee speaks my mind, Forrest.

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