Swine Flu and the Common CupThursday, October 22, 2009
As I type this there's a bottle of hand sanitizer next to my computer. And there's one on the table behind me. And there's one on the credenza in my outer office. And there's one in my coat pocket. And two in my car.
I don't want the swine flu. And I'm not alone.
This past Sunday's New York Times tells us that swine flu is wrecking two American traditions: the Saturday night beer pong and the Sunday morning Eucharist. At the same time, writer Lauren Winner says in the Wall Street Journal that swine flu fears are far-reaching enough to doom the common cup of the Lord's Supper for the time being.
I'm all for losing the beer pong, but the common cup is too important to throw away.
The Christian concept of the church as household necessarily entails a recovery of the Lord's Table in our churches, especially in "low church" evangelical congregations who have, for too long, defined our vision of the Lord's Supper too heavily on what we don't mean.
Table fellowship is a sign of familial solidarity and of the messianic reign. This is why Jesus was so revolutionary when he announced, "Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11 ESV), and that's why Simon Peter was so reluctant to sit down with the uncircumcised.
So why do our evangelical Lord's Supper services so often look like the clinical communal rinse-and-spit of fluoride at an elementary school rather than like a loving family gathered around a feast table?
Often I'll preach in churches about the Lord's Supper and will call on congregations to go back to using a common loaf and a common cup. I'll challenge the churches to recover the sign of bread being torn, not daintily picked up in pre-fabricated bits. I'll call the congregations to drink the wine, together, passing along a common cup.
I'm not offended by people disagreeing with me on this. I'm just stunned by the reason they most often give for dismissing this ancient Christian practice: germs.
The common cup is, well, gross to many Christians because they don't like the idea of drinking after strangers. That's just the point. You're not drinking after strangers. You're drinking after your own flesh-and blood, your family. And the offense is precisely the issue. You're recognizing Christ Jesus, discerning his Body, in the "flesh" of his Body the church around you. If drinking after your brothers is "disgusting," then how much more eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood. That was disgusting to an assembly a while back as well.
Now, I'm not calling on churches to pick up the common cup and the common loaf in the middle of a swine flu pandemic. That wouldn't be prudent. But maybe now's the time to start thinking about how our hyper-hygienic American culture might be leading us toward cleanliness and away from Christ.