5 Therefore, just as the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed retain their nature and value even if we never keep, pray, or believe them, so also does this Blessed Sacrament remain unimpaired and inviolate even if we use and handle it unworthily. 6 Do you think God cares so much about our faith and conduct that He would permit them to affect His ordinance? No, all temporal things remain as God has created and ordered them, regardless of how we treat them. 7 This must always be emphasized, for thus we can thoroughly refute all the babbling of the seditious spirits who regard the sacraments, contrary to the Word of God, as human performances. (Large Catechism Article 5, 5-7)
52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
A funny thing happened on the way to Holy Communion.
If only I had the faith of an atheist.
Rev. Michael Ware
My friend Jochen is a self-proclaimed atheist. We have had many wonderful conversations around the topic of religion, but one of my favorites was a story that he shared with me regarding a trip he made to a church in the U.S. visiting with my wife and I.
Now you may be wondering what an atheist is doing going to church. Well, with Jochen I believe it is a case of respecting the friendship he has with Sonja and me; sort of like how Jochen still bows his head together with us during mealtime prayers and he even says, “Amen,” at the end of the prayers. As our friend, Jochen simply shows this behavior out of respect for the friendship, so as I said, at heart, Jochen is an atheist.
Well, now for the story:
It was a lovely Sunday morning and Jochen was going to church with Sonja (they had been best friends for years in Germany) and his role that morning was to help keep an eye on Seraphina (my daughter with Sonja) while Sonja was lead-ing the worship service.
Unfortunately, Seraphina was not in the best mood that morning and rather than sit peacefully with Jochen, she cried for her mommy, and after making a bit of a scene, she got to sit up front with mommy behind the altar while Jochen sat in the front pew by himself.
As things settled down, Jochen was at last enjoying the service, watching his friend Sonja lead worship and preach a sermon, but then things got a little complicated for Jochen as it came time for Holy Communion.
Jochen knew that the people would be coming up for the Lord’s Supper and that they might be wondering why he didn’t. This made him somewhat uncomfortable. Jochen also knew that this special meal held sacred meaning for those gathering at the table and he didn’t want to cause any disturbance either. Jochen debated going up and just going along with the crowd, or staying in his seat, or simply walking out of the sanctuary, hoping not to be noticed.
As Jochen would later describe the moment of decision and the thoughts going through his head as Holy Communion began, he said the experience was “overwhelming.” The crowd, the meal, the pressure, the internal debate, the sacredness, and the struggle, it was simply overwhelming for him and so he ended up choosing to walk out.
I often think about Jochen’s story as I consider how sometimes it happens that we as Christians, as believers, lose our sense of awe and wonderment when we come to the Communion Table. Either in not thinking or reflecting about what we are doing in that moment, or simply not appreciating what an amazing gift of grace it is, that we receive the Christ in the Holy Communion, we Christians can sometimes just go through the motions, or even begrudge the amount of time it takes to celebrate the Sacrament as part of our worship.
As a true fan of irony, I can’t help but take notice that a Christian might act so underwhelmed in response to God’s Holy Meal while an atheist, of all people, finds himself so “overwhelmed” by the same event.
To me it is kind of like seeing God winking at us and reminding us that there is often so much more to our understanding of faith and belief, and that just because someone claims a certain point of view doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow.
In the end, I can’t help but wonder what might have transpired for Jochen had he gone up and received Holy Communion that day. After all, just because he claims not to believe in God, does that necessarily mean that God wouldn’t still seek to welcome him at the table? I don’t think so. Who knows? Perhaps God might even have transformed Jochen’s heart that very day.
I also wonder how communion might be different for the Christian who has steadily gotten used to the Sacrament, and who perhaps has lost the appreciation for just how powerful that moment really is. It could be that such a Christian might learn a thing or two from an atheist like Jochen, who even though he wouldn’t claim belief in God, still felt and knew that something “overwhelming” was taking place in that moment of Holy Communion.
Either way, it’s something worth thinking about!
Your brother in Christ,
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Sunday Service: September through May:
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