Monday, March 1, 2010

the place of Judas

that's him, 4th from the left (traditionally). his head is in the shadows and he's clutching a money bag. i've been in some conversations where Judas was painted as pure evil and i've read some historical novels that played up on the idea that he was a zealot (Iscariot means "dagger carrier" apparently) who was only trying to bring about the kingdom through violent means. it's an interesting discussion i think and it has ramifications in all sorts of other areas of theology.

was he at the table for the Lord's Supper? yes he was.
was he baptized and therefore a believer? yes he was.
did he travel as one of the 12 and do all the things they did? yes he did.

how does that affect our views of the sacraments? how does that affect our view of salvation? how does that change our views of theology altogether?

i don't claim to have the answers except to say that he was there, he believed, he did the things that all the disciples did, he betrayed and he ended up "in the place where he belonged" in the end.

i came upon these thoughts after a "Definitely NOT Sunday School" discussion at our church community yesterday. we've been discussing communion and trying to discern whether we should/want to open the table so that anyone and everyone can partake. the ones that we are most concerned about are the children amongst us since we would like to include them in the grace offered in the eucharist. we discussed a lot of church history and how the Lord's Table has always been linked to baptism since the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve) in 95 CE. perhaps we have wrongly done so however, and i argue that we have the example of Judas to say that perhaps we should go another way. i hate that i have the example of Judas however so let's throw Peter into the same boat since he took part in the sacraments also and still denied Christ. i suspect that many of us can relate to Peter much more easily than we can relate to Judas anyway.

the word Eucharist is taken from a greek root word (charis) meaning grace. i've long thought that there is something very transformative in the Lord's Table, that it's more than a declaration of faith like baptism is. i'll argue that grace is imparted to the individual when they take this bread and take this wine. if a person is baptized and declaring themselves to be following Christ then the grace is apparent and transformative whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. but what of the "outsider"? what of the person who is on the road toward Christ but just starting out on the journey? what if they take the bread and wine and that in itself is an act of faith? this person is not baptized like the Didache and church history demands of us but still ... do they believe? do they have faith? does their faith save them? of course it does.

when John Wesley trolled the fields of Britain preaching and teaching, did he bother to question every one of the thousands who came his way to ask if they were baptized, washed in the blood of the lamb and worthy to partake of the grace being offered to them in the eucharist? uh, no he didn't. first of all, there were thousands of people showing up at these things. thousands of "seekers" who weren't necessarily baptized even as infants. yet they came and they believed. they called that the Great Awakening in Britain for a reason; people were waking up to ways of faith.

ok, so i come back to Judas (and Peter too). Jesus knew he would betray him ... and yet he offered him the eucharist; he knew he would deny him and yet, he offered him the eucharist. grace was offered to the outsider and Peter accepted it. now i should point out that Judas took it too but i don't want to get into what i believe about where Judas ended up other than agreeing with the early church that "he ended up where he belonged". so grace redeemed Peter but it was offered to both.

what if grace is offered to every outsider? is baptism a necessary prerequisite? Jesus offered it to someone he KNEW would betray him and another he KNEW would deny him. what if grace is offered to every visitor to our gatherings and every child, even when we don't know where they stand in their journey with God? isn't the act of asking for grace an act of faith? i suppose in the case of a child they may just be asking for a piece of bread and a sip of grape juice but perhaps this too is an act of faith and if it isn't then we don't hurt them by giving them good things.

we do the church an injustice with all inquisitions around worthiness at the table, and don't get me started on 1 Corinthians because the context of the discussion of worthiness has nothing to do with personal sin like we so often argue for it. if someone is coming into the Lord's Table and eating all the bread or drinking all the wine then you probably have a problem that 1 Corinthians can help you with but worrying about whether you're a good enough Christian before you take part in the grace offered at the table isn't the point whatsoever. grace is a product of faith and you should view the table as a birthright and not an obligation.

ok i threw that last bit in for free (wait, it's ALL free) but i got away from my argument for a second there. the point is that the outsider who reaches out in faith should be afforded grace that the eucharist offers to them. if Christ can offer grace to someone like Judas then i certainly have no business questioning where someone else is with regard to their own walk of faith.

there is real power in the phrases "This is the body of Christ, broken for you" and "This is the blood of Christ, shed for you" when you offer it to your neighbour. they're transforming phrases that change whole lives. they move mountains of unbelief and they bring souls rushing to the Creator of all things as they reach out in faith toward common elements and eternal concepts.

i personally have struggled with what my choice will be as we discuss communion in our circle. i'm pleased that things are coming together for me as i try to figure out what i believe in this area. i believe the outsider MUST be included, because they may accept their own act of faith and do great things with it as God works miracles in a heart.

He's still working miracles in hearts, including mine.


anias blog said...

very good thoughts and reflections, Ian. My own reading on the word origin of the Eucharist suggest that the greek root is eukaristos - meaning grateful, or usually translated as "giving thanks". Charis (the grace part) being part of the word. Eu meaning "good or well" - so I guess "good grace... or giving grace?"
Not sure - but it has been known as the Great Thanksgiving. So, of course, grace is in there, but the "giving thanks" part is very significant.

Again - good reflections on a complex subject.


shallowfrozenwater said...

"eucharidzo" would be giving thanks and "eucharistos" is a noun form of the verb so grateful seems like an appropriate translate. a literal translation of eucharidzo would be to grace out, whatever that would mean. i don't think that any of those translations are incorrect however and i will point out that both come from the root word of "charis" mean grace.

anias blog said...

I don't know what it would mean, but "grace out" is a wonderful saying that I think we should appropriate.

Hey Craig, see you later.
Yeah, you bet, grace out.

shallowfrozenwater said...

you OWN Craig.

peace to you my brother. i'm grateful for your friendship.

Al said...

Interesting questions.
First thought--read Sara Miles "Take this bread". She never went to church until she was about 40. Went to an Episcopal church in San Fran that practices a very open communion, and God used that to radically change her. Now she runs a 'Food Pantry' out of the same church that feeds upwards of 800 people/families a week.

Second thoughts are going to rattle several of your boats:
"was he baptized and therefore a believer? yes he was." What makes you think the disciples were either baptized or believers? We really have no indication that Jesus expected his disciples to do anything more than follow him. Not that following is an easy matter... Tradition may well say otherwise, but I think that is putting a lot of words in Jesus mouth that he didn't put there.

"worthy to partake of the grace being offered to them"--Shame on you! The whole idea of grace is that we are totally undeserving of it. There is no such thing as being 'worthy to partake of grace.'

"what if grace is offered to every outsider?" It is! That is the whole point of Jesus. If grace isn't being offered, than how do we think that anything we can do will bring it to us?

"is baptism a necessary prerequisite?" We might make it a prerequisite for some things, but I don't think Jesus did. It certainly isn't a prerequisite for grace.

Besides those little quibbles, I really agree with you that since Jesus offered his body and blood for everyone, we should too. I recognize your concern about children, but I expect there are good ways of explaining things simply enough that they totally can understand what is going on. After all, I think most people would agree that the Eucharist is a remembrance of Jesus' love, and in some mystical way makes it real to us in that moment. So kids can share in that as well.

Hope that didn't shake your foundations too deeply!

shallowfrozenwater said...

actually, i'm feeling like maybe i'm being taken a bit out of context here Al. i do want you to know that you didn't shake the foundations but i'm also leary of discussions like this since i don't want to lose parts of the community that is developing here at the blog.
first things first though, yeah Sara Miles was an impetus for this post. i haven't read the book but i've had a couple significant conversations about the book that would cause me to believe that i'd really enjoy the book.
John 4:1-4 talks about the fact that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John although Jesus never actually did any baptizing. that at least implies that the disciples themselves were baptized (by one another). it's silly to assume that the 12 weren't baptized when it was learned soon after that those who came after the 12 were baptized in order to be a follower of Jesus.
i don't think i really have to defend that the disciples believed do i? of course they believed, i'm not going to defend that by citing a slough of verses.
i would argue that there is no way to EARN grace but if humankind wasn't worthy of grace then why does God offer it? we must be redeemable as a species and God does see us as worthy. earn it, no but worthy? the existance of the offer says that we're worthy if only in God's eyes. this is probably semantics though and i don't disagree with you.
yes God offers grace to every outsider ... but churches do not, Christ followers do not. we lay down a bunch of rules and we demand that everyone must measure up before we offer the bread and wine. if the sacraments are grace, and i think they are, then we can't say "you can't have this because i'm not sure where you stand with God". again, i don't think we disagree but i do think that perhaps i didn't express my point well enough. i think that you think i'm saying something other than what i think i'm saying. yeah, i'm confusing often.
i think that the church does make baptism a prerequisite for coming to the table. i come from a tradition where you can't take communion without first being baptized and even the traditional churches ask that a person be confirmed before they take communion.
like i said above, i don't disagree with you. i do want to stretch the barriers of my own life. i want to be open to whatever change that God presents for my life.

brokensaints said...

One of the most amazing things that I've been a part of at my church is serving communion. I had no idea how much it would affect me - it is such a privelege to see people up close as they accept that gift. I really am moved every time.

Al said...

Yeah, I did come across rather 'in your face'. Sorry about that, I'm not intending to create arguments.

I loved your comment about our worthiness in God's eyes. That is an excellent point.

Each of us are in our own place, at our own point on our own journey. For me, that probably means I'm willing to weigh Jesus against church and Christians, and be willing to ditch both the church and Christians in favor of something I believe strongly that Jesus taught and practiced. But I must not make that decision for anyone else.

I think my thoughts about the disciples come from a conversation with a local friend. His point was that Jesus never made anyone sign a statement of faith, but we certainly do.

Here's a quote from Sara Miles' latest book, taken from the altar at her church:
"Did not the Lord dine with publicans and harlots? Therefore, make no distinction between worthy and unworthy: all must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve."
I think that is your heart, and I like it.