Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Fraction

For the past week and the upcoming one, over six hundred bishops of the Anglican Communion have been meeting in the United Kingdom at the Lambeth Conference. The general purpose of this convocation is to review the past decade and set the course for the Anglican Church for the next ten years. This Lambeth Conference is particularly significant because it comes at a time of great “distraction” and “division” within the Anglican Communion. But, not all of the bishops are there and not because they’re busy or can’t afford to come (the Anglican Communion has a program to ensure that any bishop who wants to come to Lambeth will be able to do so). More significantly, several of the primates, the leaders of the various national Anglican churches, are boycotting this convocation. And, some of the attending bishops won’t take Communion with certain of their colleagues.

What is it about Communion these people don’t understand? The crux of these who have absented themselves from Lambeth and who won’t participate in the central act of Anglican worship is that a number of the rest of us (who, by the way, are at Lambeth (or in one notable case, close by in the neighborhood) and glad and grateful communicants at every Eucharist) have fallen away from the traditions of the Anglican Church and are following a “false gospel”.

I am a so-called “cradle Episcopalian”, which means that I was baptized as an infant into the Episcopal Church and have never attended on a regular basis any other Christian denomination or other faith. Generally, I think this is a silly distinction, but when it comes to bona fides on Anglican tradition, my happenstance of religion comes in quite handy. I am old enough to have spent my childhood ‘doing’ Communion with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It doesn’t come more traditional than that. And what I recall most from that liturgy is the invitation to Communion, what we had to do in order to come to the Lord’s Table:

If you are in love and charity with your neighbors and intend to lead a new life, draw near with faith …

Traditionally, there was a condition to taking Communion. In order to even approach the Lord’s Table, much less take the wafer and the wine, we had to be in “love and charity” with our neighbors. The word “neighbors” isn’t defined or qualified, so anyone who is or could be our neighbor is included. On second thought, maybe that’s precisely why they haven’t come to Lambeth or won’t take Communion with the others: they know they aren’t in love and charity with their neighbors and have no intention of leading a new life.

But, it is now thought by many that since it is the Lord’s Supper we celebrate in Communion, that God’s invitation to the Table has no conditions or that we mortals can’t possibly conceive and thereby can’t enforce whatever conditions they might be. In fact, the invitation should really be considered a command, no different than when we ‘invite’ our children to go to bed or brush their teeth. The invitation is something we are told to do for our own good.

And, when we decline the invitation, we actually break the Communion. To be complete, everyone must participate. That’s the worst part of all of this. Not the debate, not the differing views, all of which have defined and invigorated the Anglican Communion from its inception. It is that our Communion is not complete, because there are people missing. That is something that the “remembrance of them [should be] grievous unto us, the burden of them intolerable.”

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