Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Concerning Communion

The communion of the body and blood of Christ is inward and spiritual, which is the participation of his flesh and blood, by which the inward man is daily nourished in the hearts of those in whom Christ dwells; of which things the breaking of bread by Christ with his disciples was a figure, which they even used in the church for a time, who had received the substance, for the cause of the weak; even as "abstaining from things strangled, and from blood;" the washing one another's feet, and the anointing of the sick with oil; all which are commanded with no less authority and solemnity than the former; yet seeing they are but the shadows of better things, they cease in such as have obtained the substance.
[Proposition 13]

These two propositions, the one on baptism and this on communion are ones that I have not thought a lot about. When I have given workshops on Barclay I have focused on the ones dealing with the spiritual journey – the saving light through perfection – because they were the areas that were of most interest to me. This approach also seemed to make them more accessible to others. Having been raised a Quaker, baptism and communion did not come up much unless I was visiting another church when they were having a communion service.

As a result I had a rather simplistic view of what baptism and communion meant. I thought of baptism as some sort of initiation ritual and communion was a celebration of community. Both of these were really notions formed by the outward practices I had seen around me. This illustrates just how hard it is to see through these outward things to the inward reality that early Friends were pointing to.

Communion is the inner nourishment of the soul. The outward ritual represents this nourishment but is not the spiritual sustenance. Once the inward reality is known, the ritual is no longer needed. This is how Barclay describes communion:

Quest. If it be asked then what that body, what that flesh and blood is?
Answ. I answer, it is that heavenly Seed, that divine, spiritual, celestial Substance, of which we spake before, in the Fifth and Sixth Propositions. This is that vehiculum Dei, or spiritual body of Christ, whereby and wherethrough he communicateth life to man, and salvation "to as many as believe in him," and "receive him," and whereby also man comes to have fellowship and communion with God.
[Apology, Proposition 13, Section II]

So the body and blood of Christ is the Divine Seed within us. It is what modern liberal Friends so tepidly call “that of God within everyone.” But it is so much more. It is the root and source of our being and the source of our spiritual nourishment.

[T]hat this body and spiritual flesh and blood of Christ is to be understood of that divine and heavenly Seed, before spoken of by us, appears both by the nature and fruits of it: first, it's said, "it is that, which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world": now, this answers to that Light and Seed, which is testified of (John 1) to be the "Light of the world," and the "Life of men." For that spiritual Light and Seed, as it receives place in men's hearts, and room to spring up there, is as bread to the hungry and fainting soul, that is, as it were, buried and dead in the lusts of the world, which receives life again, and revives, as it tasteth and partaketh of this heavenly bread; and they that partake of it are said to come to Christ; neither can any have it but by coming to him, and believing in the appearance of his Light in their hearts, by receiving which, and believing in it, the participation of this body and bread is known.
[Apology, Proposition 13, Section II]

So if baptism is the negative aspect of the washing and purifying action of God within us, communion is the positive aspect of the growth of the Seed and the Light within us. If the body and blood are that Seed and that Light, then our communion happens as we take that into ourselves and understand it and absorb it into our beings.

So that the supper of the Lord, and the supping with the Lord, and partaking of his flesh and blood is no ways limited to the ceremony of breaking bread, and drinking wine at particular times; but is truly and really enjoyed, as often as the soul retires into the Light of the Lord, and feels and partakes of that heavenly Life, by which the inward man is nourished, which may be, and is often witnessed by the faithful at all times, though more particularly, when they are assembled together to wait upon the Lord.
[Apology, Propostion 13, Section III]

Barclay has much to say about the nature of the outward observances of baptism and communion and why neither outward ceremony are required of Christians but I am not going to go into them in detail here. The gist is that it is the inward baptism and communion that is required and not the outward. The outward forms were never commanded as a rule for all time. There are other rituals such as the washing of the feet that are commanded much more explicitly than either baptism or communion yet, on the whole, the church chooses not to require that ritual. I recognize that this is an area that has been an area of discussion in certain yearly meetings lately. For anyone involved in those discussions I commend propositions 12 and 13 to your study.

Blessings to all.

Will T


Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

It occurs to me that you might be interested in the experience of communion that Francis Howgill described, in a letter he wrote to Margaret Fell in 1661:

"The former days are not forgotten by me, nor the years past, when we were all made to drink of one cup, and were baptised into the death and suffering of Christ: and were made to drink it willingly, knowing it was our portion allotted unto us of the Lord, which we could not pass, but must drink thereof. And though it was irksome and grievous unto us, when our strength was but small; yet God, out of his infinite love and mercy, strengthened us to bear, and to suffer, and to deny that which hid immortality and life from us. And bore us up in his arms, and made us to endure with patience the sufferings and the death; that so we might obtain the resurrection of the dead: which indeed was a blessed time — though for a moment it seemed grievous."

June 04, 2008 8:12 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Leave it to you to have a quote that cuts through my notions. :^) You are also correct that I find this interesting.

Will T

June 04, 2008 8:49 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

The early Friends were reacting against ritual that appeared to be without the substance. Is it possible that their refraining from use of the outward physical symbols (they had no objection to symbols themselves; their writings are full of them) was for a particular period and purpose?

My impression is that Friends do not really grasp the meaning of the Incarnation. Christ is present spiritually to us, but God found it important to send Christ to us in human flesh. God understands how we are made and the ways we understand reality.

The Eucharist is a means by which Christ can still be present physically to us. This is a gift of the Incarnation.

Early Friends wrote as if once you experienced the spiritual reality of communion, the physical expression lost its meaning. Quite obviously, this has not generally been true for Christians. Most of those who came to deeply experience the spiritual reality of communion in fact have found the physical expression to be more meaningful, not less. This is true in every generation.

Is the resistance to the practice of the Eucharist among Friends today a true leading of the Spirit or a holding on to tradition?

June 15, 2008 8:28 PM  

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