Transcendence and the Lord's Supper
"What is common to us ecumenically - faith in God's good creation, orientation in the disadvantaged, the losers as God's beloved children, discipleship of Christ in a difficult and confusing world and the spirit that helps us - all this is infinitely greater and more important than what separates us in our understanding of the Bible, the sacraments and the office. The separation was long overcome for us in the praxis of faith and action. Liberating theology is not only catholic or protestant." Translated from the German
Transcendence and the Lord's Supper
By Dorothee Soelle
[This sermon at the ecumenical feast of the Ikvu (International church from below) on catholic day in Hamburg 2000 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.ikvu.de/katholikentag/predigt-soelle-katholikentag-2000.html. Dorothee Soelle who died in April 2003 at 73 was a leader in the Koln political night prayer and feminist-liberation theology.]
I'd like to begin with a personal recollection from long ago around my first experiences with the common Lord's Supper. In the time of the Political Night Prayer in Koln (1966 to 1972), our custom was to often attend church services on Sunday, one time at a catholic service and the next time at a protestant service. We shared in the meal, the eucharist, if the priests and pastors tolerated this. We never felt any confessional problems.
After two years of common work, we had a meeting to learn more about the growing circle of 60 persons. The conservations were filled with astonishing surprises: "Oh, I always thought you were protestant! Are you catholic?" Or vice versa. The separations of the 16th century were no longer our separations. We celebrated a church service with a common Lord's Supper at this meeting. Afterwards a friend, the catholic journalist Wilma Sturm, asked whether she still had to attend mass on Sunday. Many of us including myself couldn't understand this question. We had shared Christ with one another.
What is common to us ecumenically - faith in God's good creation, orientation in the disadvantaged, the losers, as God's beloved children, discipleship of Christ in a difficult and confusing world and the spirit that helps us - all this is infinitely greater and more important than what separates us in our understanding of the Bible, sacraments and office. The separation was long overcome for us in the arising praxis of faith and action. Liberating theology is not only catholic or protestant! I also sense this today. Lived Christianity in the peace prayers, in the jubilee year campaign and in cooperation for human rights of garment slaves no longer focuses on traditional confessional and dogmatic understanding. When cautious procrastinators warn us saying "we haven't come that far yet", we make ourselves incredible when we engage3 ourselves.
The delaying tactics from above deny the oneness promised to us. We have heard: "All should be one. As you Father are in me and I am in you, they should also be one in us so the world believes that you sent me." The question about intercommunion doesn't interest any one anymore today except for bishops and theology professors. We have to raise and solve more serious questions, for example how we as Christians deal with globalization from above and the disempowerment or deactivation of all social and ecological regulations.
The theology of the Lord's Supper has also changed. As women in many positions admonished in the last years, we should see the eucharist with its origin in the Jewish community meal. The Eucharist is a meal for satiation and not only a symbolic act. The watchword "Eating more at the Lord's Supper and praying more at meals" is revealing. The Lord's Supper has an integrative function and includes marginal groups like the homeless. The Lord's Supper is shared joy. The blessing of bread and the blessing of the cup are acts of blessing in which Christ's body is shared. Eating is not simply food intake but always a fragment of self-interruption in remembrance of the creation. We could learn to praise the creation.
The rite has something to do with joy in eating. I emphasize this against the protestant tradition that is often marked by a false sin ideology, anxious mourning and its own individualism. We still have much to do. Still we cover the table and remember that the privileges of the satiated were not tolerated by Paul and the original Jesus-community. Justice is not only a matter of individuals. Justice belongs to the heart of the Jesus-community. Justice should shine in our common celebration.
We are all not entirely at home in the church in which we live. "Real church always needs visions, awakenings and wanderings of the people of God.. A real church doesn't plunk down in Roman palaces. Ecclesia semper reformanda. The diversity of rituals, languages and symbolic gestures is a wealth from which we can only learn. In Protestantism, there is a massive unsatisfied need today for materiality, colors, fragrances and movements. People long for a materially visible faith that doesn't only refer to the word. God is always greater than our heart and certainly greater than our church administrations and our theologies. Oneness in and with Christ is promised to us. No office can steal that or claim it for itself.
I'd like to tell you a grandchild story that means much to me. The three-and-a-half year old child brought porcelain cups from the cupboard and built a café under my anxious eyes. Imaginary coffee was offered to imaginary guests. After a while, her mother said: Now it is time for supper and the café should be cleaned up. The child replied with critical astonishment: "Mama, you always only think practically."
This crazy sentence helps me better understand the tradition. This sentence also thinks on two planes. One is the plane of observable and experienced reality, the plane of "practicality", the plane of institutions with their rules and customs. The observable plane has fear of changes, fear that God hides in many places and waits for us. The other plane is the plane that we need and seek and can test. This plane is also called transcendence. Let us not get stuck in formality or practicality. Dear sisters and brothers, we need transcendence!
My instinct tells me that we may not have any more time to wait for the lame ducks' feet of the institutions. The decline and fall of the Christian tradition is threatening. I conclude with a new hymn that arose in 1989 in the former DDR (East Germany). This song could give us more courage than we often have:
"Trust the new paths
and wander in time.
God wants you to be a blessing
for his earth.
He who breathed life in us
in early times
will guide us
where he wants and needs us.
Trust the new paths
on which God sends us!
He comes to meet us,
the future is his land.
Whoever breaks out can hope
in time and eternity.
The doors are open.
The land is bright and vast!"
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