Communion Under the Anglo Jesus

God has friends and servants in all kinds of places. The face of Messiah looks different and yet the same.

I’ve had a number of encounters with beautiful people and communities on the road recently. Humble shepherds, selfless servants, devoted congregations. I’ve seen enough good to encourage me that power, domination, and ego are not the last word in contemporary religion. If Thoreau said, and we can all relate, that the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” I can say that many unknown people lead lives of quiet sanctification.

I met many of these over the weekend. I gave a whole day of lectures at an Episcopal church near Memphis, Tennessee. They asked me to give five lectures and the times for these five lectures did not include the main morning service. So I got to be a participant, with no responsibilities. It was my first Episcopal service.

The Episcopal form of worship is as close as you can get to Catholic without crossing a line that is very important to a Jewish person (and to a Protestant). That is, Episcopalians have all the liturgy and ceremony of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but without statues or icons. I know that I would find great beauty in a Mass, but I could not attend one. I do not doubt the faith of Catholics or Orthodox Christians, but our disagreement about the use of images is not reconcilable.

So the Episcopal service is as close as I am going to get. And, having experienced it, I can say that there is beauty and wisdom and a sense of reverence for the Temple service of the Torah that is illuminating and inspirational when experienced.

The church has a modest-sized building in a small town that is a suburb of Memphis. They can’t fit all their people in the relatively small sanctuary (it holds probably 150 people). So they have two packed services and some people stand. Nothing in their facility is lavish or wasteful. But all is very well-kept. They portray an image of beauty and faithfulness in maintaining sacred space with none of the excesses sometimes associated with churches seeking to impress. These are not the kind of people who spend all of their money on themselves. But they have a dedicated congregation who care about the beauty of the place.

The Episcopal service has its own prayer book, the Book of Common Prayer, which could be compared to the Jewish Siddur. The Sunday morning service is very formal. It occurred to me as I watched that at least a dozen people played vital roles in the ceremony.

And they all took their roles seriously, were dedicated to doing them well, and there was no sense of showmanship in the way any of them performed the sacred drama.

The opening of the service was a processional carrying some items like a cross (not sure what else) while reciting a liturgy about repentance for sins.

There were readings in the service from the gospel, from the letters of the New Testament, and the first reading was from what they would term the Old Testament. One of my sons, Josiah, and I were sitting there in our yarmulkes enjoying the worship experience. I thought it was fitting, on what I assume is the first time this Episcopal church has had observant Jews in attendance, that the reading was from Genesis 12, about blessing coming to the gentiles through Abraham’s descendants.

Much as we make the reading of the Torah central in our service, the scripture readings in the Episcopal service are surrounded with ceremony and invested with a sense of the sacred (but for them, communion or eucharist is central).

Throughout the service, I tried to watch at the front as the two priests and several lay ministers performing their roles treated the altar at the front of the church with reverence like the priests in the Temple had long ago. I observed throughout a number of rituals, including a sort of leaning with the hands (or at least, hands outstretched) and presenting offerings toward the altar as gifts.

Why did many Protestant streams feel the need to remove these elements? Were they afraid of appearing too Catholic?

My anticipation of the high point of the service increased as it progressed. I felt the Presence in that Episcopal sanctuary and looked forward to taking communion there. I knew it would be meaningful to remember the body and blood of Messiah in a place where so much beauty surrounds the remembrance.

Every nerve was tingling as the eucharist service began and people came in turns to the front, where two priests and a lay eucharistic minister served the bread and wine. I took mine by intinction, as I also instructed my son to do, not wanting to drink out of a common cup (intinction means dipping the unleavened wafer of bread into the wine and eating it).

I looked up and noticed the stained glass window. It is a beautiful image of a brown-haired, white-skinned, anglo Jesus with a halo holding a child and looking anything but Jewish. And I was kneeling in my yarmulke taking communion, remembering the death of my Messiah.

Yeshua’s movement has gone in some strange directions. But aside from the anglo Jesus on the window, I felt at home here. The service isn’t exactly the tradition of Israel, but it is a different adaptation of it, comparable in some ways to the traditional Shabbat service. The altar is central instead of the Ark. The service points to the Cross instead of Sinai. The readings of the sacred scriptures are highly venerated, but not as central as in the Jewish service.

The dedication of the people to learning to serve in the ceremony impressed me. I set a goal to increase the number of people who lead ceremony in our congregation. I reflected on the way in the Jewish and in the Episcopal service that the commitment of the people to the ritual is what makes it meaningful. When people who play many different roles during the week come together for a common purpose to make something inspiring happen, and when the sacred drama is not focused on one person, but is a group effort, God is easier to see.

There was nothing pretentious at all in this church service. And in the afternoon I found out more. As I lectured on the gospels to an enthusiastic and inquisitive crowd, I discovered how the gospel has formed other beautiful things in this church family. They resonated with the example and teaching of Jesus about making the world to come a reality now, of bringing the reality of God’s perfect world as much as possible to people now. During the discussion, they told me their priest had lead them over the past decade to make this more and more of a priority.

How much of a priority? I wondered. She told me, “Well, our annual budget last year was $700,000 and of that we gave away $315,000 to charity.” The only regret the congregation had about all this generosity is that they had not yet reached their goal to give away half of all receipts to charity. But they are working on it.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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34 Responses to Communion Under the Anglo Jesus

  1. David Lazarus says:

    I really appreciate this mediation on your experience in the Episcopal sanctuary. I love the way you found temple ritual in the service. I have often felt that there needs to be a way to allow for more gravity and a sense of holiness in the communion service. Here in Israel in most of the Messianic congregations that I serve there is not a lot of ritual or sense of awe surrounding the communion. Ritual is often looked down on, but we are then often only left with an uninspiring ceremony. I think connecting the communion service with temple worship is a wonderful way of helping Messianics gain a greater appreciation for the sacrement of communion. I will begin to study this out more and hope to begin using this understanding as a way of increasing our own sense of God’s presence at the table in my own Messianic congregation. Thanks.

  2. James says:

    Is the sacrament of communion common in Israeli Messianic congregations? I naively assumed it wouldn’t be.

  3. “Is the sacrament of communion common in Israeli Messianic congregations? I naively assumed it wouldn’t be.”
    Most congregations here celebrate once a month. Though few would be comfortable calling it a “sacrament.” There is of course no Hebrew equivalent. Google translates sacrament into Hebrew as טקס נוצרי or “Christian ceremony.” It has been a major effort to try and find ways of incorporating the sacredness of communion into the Messianic celebration. That’s why I really like the idea of connecting it with the temple worship. Typically Messianics in Israel have been caught up with the traditional Christian debates over the table – somewhere between transubstantiation and only symbolic – and I believe that we have missed the deeper meaning. Sacrament has to do with sacrifice and putting the Lord’s Supper in the temple context helps me connect with its deeper meaning as a Jew.

  4. “It has been a major effort to try and find ways of incorporating the sacredness of communion into the Messianic celebration. ”

    We already have kiddush – and it sounds that this is what Yeshua was engaging in when he blessed G-d over wine and challah while sitting around with his disciples. Why do we need to make a separate (alienating to Jews) ritual as part of our services? We don’t. We are simply told to remember Yeshua’s sacrifice at the time that we “do this” (meaning, something that Jews already naturally do, that is when we bless G-d for wine and bread). The Jewish table has been considered a part of the “temple” that is in every Jewish home for the last 2K years, so there’s already a natural sanctity that exists that simply needs to be practiced.

  5. James says:

    David, the reason I used the word “sacrament” is because that’s how I think of communion and as you say, it is translated as “Christian ceremony.” I suppose I always thought this was satisfied by Passover, but Gene obviously has a different interpretation. It honestly never occurred to me that communion would be observed in a Messianic congregation. It is obvious that I have much to learn.

    • Don’t we all James, have much to learn. I looked up sacrament in the dictionary. “a visible sign instituted by Yeshua (well they call him Jesus) to confer grace or divine life on those who receive it.” I like that. In Hebrew we call it “the Lord’s Supper.” I wonder if anyone might have an idea how to give this wonder of grace a better, more traditional Jewish Hebrew word.

  6. I have seen it called Zicharon (also spelled Zichron or Zikharon or זכרון).

    And the idea of “sacrament” is something some Protestants accept and some don’t. That is why many Christian denominations call it an ordinance and not a sacrament. The debatable part is whether a ritual “confers grace” and what that means. Some are trying to avoid a “magical” interpretation in which a person becomes “magically” holier by participating in a ceremony.

    Derek Leman

  7. Zikaron = Memorial. That’s good. That’s a commemorative, a way of preserving the memory of Yeshua and what he has accomplished for us. Like commemorating Passover. So this reminds us that communion is something like one of the festivals, a time of recalling and retelling what the Lord has done. It is also like Shabbat because we celebrate it regularly throughout the year. Perhaps we could call it “seudat hamashiah” or Messiah’s Feast. In English, Messiah’s Table probably sounds better, but I don’t think that either wraps it up. Another English term is Eucharist which also seems to be related to the idea of memorial. It comes from the word for “thanksgiving.” Plenty of terms in English like mass or communion, but in Hebrew we haven’t made much headway here. If you look at a dictionary at these terms you will see that they are all only connected to the Christian faith. The Lord’s Supper has lost much of its Jewish flavor throughout history.

    In some ways the debate as to whether the ritual “confers grace and what that means” is more interesting. I would certainly not consider anything “magical” about it, or want to promote the idea that simple participation will somehow produce greater holiness. On the other hand, we need to insure that we allow for the real presence of Messiah in the communion (what can we call it already?). If we go back to the temple analogy, there was certainly real presence as one participated in the sacrifices. Forgiveness was bestowed on the worshipers. Something supernatural occurs. I understand “confers grace” meaning that God shares his goodness with us. Confers is a good word for this as it comes from the same word for “conference,” a meeting together. When we meet with God at the Messiah’s Table something wonderful happens. Perhaps it is wisdom to not try and define too strictly what actually “happens,” but leave that to the Lord and his worshiper.

  8. David Lazarus:

    Those of us with mystical leanings (seeing the emphasis in Torah and prophets on the Presence) should seriously consider a more “sacramental” view of zicharon.

  9. James says:

    “Messiah’s Feast”. Sort of sounds like what FFOZ calls the Meal of the Messiah, although that’s an event that’s directly associated with the Passover. To be honest, I’m not particularly convinced that Yeshua intended “the Lord’s Supper” to be a new event that was to be commemorated once per month and have a significance that was separate or disassociated from the Passover.

  10. James:

    Early Yeshua communities practiced a fellowship meal with zicharon more than once a year at Passover. This is evident in a close reading of 1 Corinthians 11.

    When you consider, as I explained in depth in the “Passover, Last Supper, Crucifixion” posts, that the Last Supper was a pre-Passover meal with Passover themes, but not an actual Seder, then the old Messianic Jewish interpretation (communion-only-at-Passover) becomes moot.

    So the arguments for a once or twice a year communion or zicharon begin to fade and we can see why the Corinthians observed it every week.

    Derek Leman

    • “So the arguments for a once or twice a year communion or zicharon begin to fade and we can see why the Corinthians observed it every week.”

      Derek… one could also argue that the Gentile communities of believers (like Corinthians, and certainly later communities) naturally took on observances and modes of worship that were developed to fulfill their own unique needs, that is “non-Jewish”. These communities created their own meaningful rituals (or perhaps it was Paul, as an Apostle to the Gentiles, who created these rituals for them) – after all, they had to adopt to the fact that they were not Jewish, that they were not obligated to observe Jewish ritual or culturally expected to do the same things as their Torah-observant and Jewish-tradition-following Jewish counterparts.

  11. James says:

    Derek… one could also argue that the Gentile communities of believers (like Corinthians, and certainly later communities) naturally took on observances and modes of worship that were developed to fulfill their own unique needs, that is “non-Jewish”. These communities created their own meaningful rituals (or perhaps it was Paul, as an Apostle to the Gentiles, who created these rituals for them) – after all, they had to adopt to the fact that they were not Jewish, that they were not obligated to observe Jewish ritual or culturally expected to do the same things as their Torah-observant and Jewish-tradition-following Jewish counterparts.

    All that said Gene, would you then conclude that communion or zicharon is a primarily Gentile Christian ritual? If so, could you see (Messianic) Jews participating or would they adhere only to the more traditional Jewish festivals?

    • “All that said Gene, would you then conclude that communion or zicharon is a primarily Gentile Christian ritual?”

      I would conclude that “communion” as a separate rite in of itself was a later development, for Gentiles. I would also conclude that the Jewish disciples of Yeshua simply remembered him (as they were instructed to do) when partaking in bread and wine during the existing Jewish observances (either on Jewish holy days like Passover or on Shabbat, or both).

  12. Gene:

    Later? 1 Corinthians dates to about 56 CE, which is before all of the gospels were written (except possibly Mark if one accepts Crossley and Casey’s ideas about dating Mark).

  13. “Later? 1 Corinthians dates to about 56 CE, which is before all of the gospels were written ”

    Derek… if you read the context of Yeshua’s instructions, they was issued during the course of a meal (may be tied to a Passover – or early Passover, but it doesn’t need to be). As a distinct rite that we today knows as “communion” it was certainly a later development – later doesn’t mean centuries. I suggest that it was Paul who set it up in a form of a ritual (but still part of a communal meal, although certainly not as an often elaborate church ceremony that we see today) specifically for the Gentiles he ministered to.

  14. Gene:

    No argument that the elements were taken as part of a meal. That is true and well reflected in 1 Corinthians. I was arguing against the only-at-Passover interpretation. It is strange that Christianity has eliminated the meal.

  15. How do we understand the Apostles “continuing steadfastly… in the breaking of the bread…” in terms of how often the memorial was practiced by the early disciples?

    • “continuing steadfastly… in the breaking of the bread…”

      It may not have been in reference “to communion” per se at all. Otherwise, why not also mention the “wine” (the “BLOOD of the covenant”, the no less important element in “communion”)? Instead, in Acts the references to “breaking of the bread” appears to simply be euphemism to communal partaking of a meal (a standard Jewish thing to do), since sharing of food is meant to deepen the bonds of fellowship (also similar to what Peter did with Gentiles).

  16. James says:

    How do we understand the Apostles “continuing steadfastly… in the breaking of the bread…” in terms of how often the memorial was practiced by the early disciples?

    I break bread with my congregation every week and we remember the Messiah on every Shabbat, but does that act translate into Communion?

    • I am of the opinion that Yeshua instituted a memorial to help us partake of his broken body and poured out blood. This is based on the institution of a new priesthood, he himself becoming the High Priest. He also instituted a new commemoration knowing that the temple would be destroyed, and also establishing the fact that the glory of the New Covenant is a greater fulfillment of the former. Therefore, I would hope that there is still a place for a unique memorial acknowledging, retelling, honoring and conferring the grace that springs from the sacrifice of Yeshua in our congregations.

  17. David Lazarus:

    I remember Luke Timothy Johnson being amongst the Luke-Acts scholars who did not see a reference to eucharist in the “breaking bread” passages of Acts.

  18. David Lazarus:

    You said that Yeshua instituted a sort of Temple-free ritual of mere-bread-and-wine.

    That is way outside of the context of Yeshua’s life and times. I’m afraid you are wearing your Christian glasses here.

    The Temple was already unnecessary for a Passover-themed meal (provided it was not the actual Seder where the Passover lamb was required). Yeshua’s last meal was most likely not a Seder (see my posts on “Passover, Last Supper, Crucifixion” from last month).

    There was already a Temple-free Seder in the diaspora also.

    No need for Yeshua to give “Christendom” a new Temple-free ritual. That part would take care of itself.

    There is no evidence of a bread-and-wine-only ritual tied to remembrance of Yeshua either. The Corinthians had a meal followed by remembrance.

    Hoping you’ll rethink your last statement.

    Derek Leman

  19. We all might admit to wearing tinted glasses friend. I said that I believe that Yeshua instituted a new memorial knowing the that temple worship, priesthood and covenants were to be fulfilled in him. Why is that any different, or any less Jewish than the institution of any other memorial, feast or fast?

    • “Yeshua instituted a new memorial knowing the that temple worship, priesthood and covenants were to be fulfilled in him. ”

      Firstly, Paul wrote in Corinthians that we are to remember / proclaim L-rd death “until he comes”. So, right there it doesn’t appear that there’s now a new ritual to replace other existing ongoing rituals. It’s limited in duration. Also, the main point (of both Yeshua and Paul) is not the ritual itself, but rather the remembrance and proclamation.

      Secondly, we know from the prophets that the Temple will be rebuilt and the Levitical priesthood will be re-established (among many other things that are part of the Mosaic Covenant) in the Messianic Kingdom. Whatever Yeshua did to fulfill these, he certainly didn’t replace them with anything.

      • James says:

        Gene, if your first point is correct, then Yeshua and Paul didn’t create a new mandate for communion for either Messianic Jews or Christian Gentiles. 1 Corinthians may not have been the start of the “official” communion process, if I understand you correctly, which would mean that the formality of communion as instituted by the church didn’t occur for some time, perhaps quite some time, after Paul wrote his letter.

      • James, I think that whatever Paul may have instituted with Corinthians wasn’t a ritual but simply part of the communal meal (actually, AFTER the meal, if Paul was imitating Yeshua), similar to a blessing that Jews do over bread and wine (but replaced with words of proclamation and memorial).

        It’s also interesting that for such an important “rite” it’s hardly referred to in the instructions of the Apostles to congregations (Paul’s letter to Gentile Corinthians being the only place where one could make a case) and the rite of “communion” is never emphasized as required of all believers to perform (as I said earlier, the mentions of “breaking bread” in Acts are highly questionable as referring to as a “communion”, but even they are not given as commands but simply as events).

  20. James says:

    @Gene: Then how did Paul’s instructions in his letter to the Corinthians “morph” into the “sacrament” of communion as seen in the church today? This might be a good one for Derek, as our resident theologian, to field.

  21. Cliff.C says:

    sorry, coming in late… I may not have caught everything. But aside from Kiddush (or along with Kiddush), somebody should put together a few short liturgical lines as a “Zicharon” in honor of Messiah Yeshua to be used at weekly meals. Maybe it ties in language resembling a communion-esque dialog, or simply a remembrance. Something specific around oneg or erev Shabbat.

    Actually, JudeoXian has mused on 1 Corinthians and this topic before. I don’t have permission to access at this point or I would cite it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, very interesting.

  22. Interesting perspective….though from my experience many “high church” Episcopal/Anglican churches do have images or statues of Christ, Mary, occasionally saints. Do you feel that it is inappropriate to have any kind of image of Jesus, whether on a crucifix or a two-dimensional portrait?

    As a Jew who attends an Orthodox church (though still davens fairly regularly at shul), I’m obviously coming from a different place. I find non-liturgical Protestant worship rather baffling and unappealing, though I don’t think it’s “wrong” per se. For me, the liturgical life of a Catholic or Orthodox church truly captures something of what I believe must have been the feeling of temple worship.

    I can understand your conviction about images, I think, though I personally have reached the conclusion that a) kissing an icon is not fundamentally from kissing the Torah scroll when it’s carried by and b) the Incarnation changed some fundamental dynamics re: our ability to portray God (of course, not in all aspects!)

  23. Byzantine Jewess:

    I see a difference between a Torah scroll being kissed and an icon in an Orthodox Church. A Torah Scroll is a symbol of revelation. An icon is an image of something on heaven or earth that is to be venerated. To venerate a Torah scroll is to venerate the self-disclosure of God through ancient prophetic writing. To venerate an icon is to venerate an image.

    Let me know if my distinction carries any weight in your opinion.

    At any rate, blessings to you in the more important matter of seeking God and living his Torah-truth in the world. I do hope that you find your Jewishness and covenantal calling to Torah (Sabbath, dietary law, and even worshipping the Holy One without images) is more important than ever in Messiah, not less important.

    Derek Leman

    • @Derek – I undestand and respect your image/non-image distinction, and can see why you would reject the veneration of images. In my current understanding, having read works such St John of Damascus On Divine Images, I think both the icon and the physical presence of the Torah scroll point to God’s divine revelation and self-disclosure – the icon to God’s revelation in the flesh, the Torah to God’s revelation in Scripture, as you mentioned.

      Certainly Jewishness is still integral to my identity and faith, though I am in a lengthy process of trying to discern precisely what that means! The experiences in my life that made me reexamine Christianity occurred quite specifically to me through elements and themes of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, which is a large part why I have gone in that direction….although I still participate in Jewish life and have just been looking into messianic Judaism seroiusly for the first time.

      Shalom,
      Byzantine Jewess

  24. Pingback: Ancient Jewish Icons - Page 3 - Christian Forums

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