I hadn't heard from Gary for many months when he sent me an e-mail this past week.
Gary had been a member of my junior high school group back in the early sixties; he was a good athlete, very handsome and so lively that he and his two brothers could not stay out of mischief.
Gary dated one of the young women who also was an active member of our youth church group. They moved on to the high school group, went to college and eventually were married. They now have four children, one of whom is a well known professional baseball player.
Gary's e-mail to me was addressed to "The Rev. Dr. Rich." We are such close friends-in-Christ that I knew he was "talking" tongue-in-cheek and that he wanted some information from me. In his letter, he explained that his oldest daughter was about to be married and that the couple wanted to be served Communion by the presiding minister. No one else was to join them in receiving the Communion elements. Gary, who was raised a Presbyterian, is the son of a Presbyterian minister and himself seminary-trained, objected to the exclusion of the other wedding guests.
He shared his conviction with me that whenever Communion is served it ought to be made available to all other confessing believers who are present. Because the bread commemorates the body of Christ and the cup the blood of Christ, Gary reasoned, we must not separate ourselves from one another at the Lord's Table; because all believers are members of Christ's body, to do so would symbolically dismember our Lord publicly.
He planned on trying to convince the bride and groom - and perhaps the presiding minister - to make the service all-inclusive. But Gary could not find the chapter and verse from the Bible that gave the authority he desired in support of his conviction. He asked for my help.
I responded by agreeing with Gary, but cautioned him that both of us probably arrived at our conviction more by example and implication then we did by direct statement in the Bible. I referred him to the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul takes issue with those in the church there.
Apparently the gathering of believers for a service of Communion had degenerated into an early gathering of those who were wealthy and wished to enjoy a full meal together; those who kept longer working hours or had more limited income arrived later to find the food gone and the elements already blessed and served.
Paul took the Corinthian Christians to task with these words: "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or, do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? ... For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves" (11:20-22, 29).
This coming Sunday we will celebrate World Communion. As I recall, the practice began back in 1936, when it was felt by many denominations that we need to acknowledge together what Christ has done for us and how his sacrifice can draw all of us together, whatever our other differences.
I am not yet ready to argue that all of Christendom should be united under one denomination, but I am convinced that all Christians everywhere ought to live and to serve as those who finally are united in our common confession of need and in our common profession of Christ's salvation, freely offered to all.
I have not yet heard how Gary fared in his appeal to the wedding party. He is not alone.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Warrenton.