Do we take Communion? Or do we receive Communion? Does it even matter?
Recently I have been reading Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us by Ragan Sutterfield. In the book, he writes, “I have a priest friend who says that there are many in his congregation who simply can’t hold out their hand and receive the bread—they must take it” (p. 31, location 568). This sentence started me thinking about my posture in coming to the Table as well as the Evangelical’s language in inviting people to the Table.
In short, even though it is only one word difference in the question, I think it is of vital significance that when we approach the Table, we receive the Elements, never taking.
Sadly, in the Evangelical churches I have been part of, the way in which the Eucharist is celebrated, as I approach the Table, I am required to take the Elements as there is no way for me to receive the body and blood of my Savior.
What then are the implications of taking the Elements versus receiving the Elements?
First and foremost, taking the Elements has the potential to teach a false view of salvation and sanctification. The Evangelical tradition rightly teaches that salvation is a free gift received based on what Christ has accomplished once and for all through his death and resurrection – justified by faith through grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is not something there for our taking. Therefore, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in which we once again remember and proclaim the awesome gift, should we not have the same posture as when we first received our salvation? Do we implicitly teach people that once you receive salvation, Jesus is there for your taking whenever and however you want?
Second, and related to the first point, taking gives credence to our culture of consumerism. We are taught from the moment we enter the world that everything is there for our taking. New cars, new looks, new technology, new medicine is all within your reach, and unless you have the newest and greatest, you will never be satisfied, so go out and grab it. But this consumerism is antithetical to the Gospel. The world is not there for the taking. God did not give us the gift of Creation in order to take, take, take, but rather in humility to receive the joys of the gift. Sutterfield writes, “To be humbled is to be returned and reminded that we are but soil” (p. 30, location 541). Humility implies the deep recognition that I am part of the same earth I so often neglect or exploit.
Finally, taking places ME above all else and implies a radical false independence from other people and creation itself. Taking denies my creature-ness – the fact that I am part of a rich system of mutual interdependence upon millions and millions of other creatures. I am tempted to think that as I mature, both physically and spiritually, I am more and more independent of others. But in actuality the opposite should be true – as I mature I should recognize more and more just how dependent I am upon everyone else in order to live the life Christ is calling me into.
I don’t think any Evangelical would say that this is his goal in how he invites people to celebrate the Eucharist. But I think we do need to examine the subconscious implications of our practices.
Contrary to taking, when we receive the elements from one another, we receive back our humanity. We move; we are active, not passive. While it might seem that taking is more active than receiving, receiving actually requires more activity and retraining as it is so contrary to our society.