Today a friend from college posted the following on Facebook:
We just took Skittles and iced tea as communion elements at my church in honor of the situation with Trayvon Martin–because being a Christian is an active, wrong-righting, radical-loving, justice-seeking way of life…
I knew immediately that there were a great many things to unpack in this posting. At the very least I knew her congregation had inspired a conversation about Jesus and injustice and for that I applaud them. But there seemed to be something else nestled into this radical statement that didn’t sit well with me.
For those unaware of the reference, Trayvon Martin was a black, 17-year-old who was killed (some say murdered) in an altercation with a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was recently acquitted of murdering Martin and the case brought up many controversial conversations about race, self-defense, and injustice. Martin had decided to go out to the store that evening to get Skittles and Iced Tea.
It is clear to me that Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die that night. His death is a tragedy. It simply should not have happened. I do not wish to jump into the cultural, political or legal controversies surrounding his death in this space, but I acknowledge the deep feelings of injustice that are conjured in the hearts of many Americans by his death. Trayvon Martin should not be dead because he wanted some Skittles and Iced Tea.
In many ways I understand what my friend’s church was doing by serving Skittles and Iced Tea in communion. The bread and the wine are two of the most powerful symbols in Christianity. Skittles and Iced Tea have become powerful symbols of racial injustice in America. From an artistic perspective it makes a lot of sense to put these symbols in proximity to one another. The moral complexity caused by creating a relationship between these symbols is explosive. I believe this symbol clashing expression of a Christian sacrament is powerful, but I also must ask “is it good?”
From a purely pragmatic perspective I believe that Skittles and Iced Tea can be used as a substitute for bread and wine in Communion. On a deserted island with nothing else on hand, I think God would find them an honorable means of worship. If I had to guess, I’d say 99% of my worship experiences have been in churches that chooses to use grape juice instead of wine. The LDS church uses water. Most churches serve some variety of crackers, wafers or even bread with yeast. My own church has recently begun to set out gluten-free crackers for those with gluten allergies. I say all of this to acknowledge that many churches use some substitute for the wine and the kind of bread Jesus served in the Last Supper. Not many make the effort to replicate Jewish, First Century wine and Passover bread.
From a symbolic perspective I think the use of Skittles and Iced Tea is wrong. I whole-heartedly agree that “being a Christian is an active, wrong-righting, radical-loving, justice-seeking way of life… ” We should, ought and must be fighting against racial barriers and injustice. Nonetheless I think it was inappropriate to make the Sacrament an opportunity to call Christians to the fight against injustice.
When Jesus broke the bread and served the wine, he said “do this in remembrance of me”. He did not say “do this in remembrance of Trayvon Martin and the injustice of racial stereotypes”. I hope and pray that churches every where are preaching relevant, practical and Biblical sermons on breaking the bonds of injustice. I strongly encourage them to develop programs to help their neighbors overcome those types of struggles. But Communion is not the place to offer that charge. The Gospel of Jesus is in part about racial and societal reconciliation, but that is not the entire message.
The error in using Skittles and Iced Tea in Communion is that it places the Christian mission against injustice at the center of the worship experience rather than Christ. In many ways this story illuminates the Conservative/Liberal Christian divide for me. Churches on both sides of the spectrum fall into heresy when they misplace any one aspect of the Christian pursuit of virtue over Jesus himself. Churches that designate themselves as “open and affirming” seem to easily devolve into nothing more than the message of acceptance. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that. Churches that focus on personal piety and moral regulations can devolve into nothing more than the message of righteousness. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than than. Churches that focus on nothing but their liturgy and priesthood can become a place where nothing is more important that the right mode of worship and authority. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that. Churches that passionately pursue complex theological teaching can become nothing more than their sound doctrines. Jesus and his Gospel are far bigger than that. Justice, acceptance, righteousness, worship, authority and doctrine are all wonderful things and should be pursued passionately. . . but they aren’t Jesus. Our Savior calls us to all of them, but they are not saviors.
I imagine the good people at my friend’s church would be appalled if they heard of another church that had replaced the bread and the wine with Budweiser and apple pie. I hope their outrage would not be because they reject the cultural or political message symbolized by those items, but rather because what those items represent are never meant to displace our call to remember Jesus’ death when we partake of the sacraments.
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Here’s the blog post from my priest about the Skittles and Iced Tea Communion today! http://superflat.typepad.com/nevermindthebricolage/2013/08/trayvon-martin-eucharist-and-horizons-of-expectation.html
Churches really ought to stay away from politics. That case became purely political. A “white hispanic”? Give me a break.
The man was tried and it was determined he was defending himself.
How much space did the writers of the New Testament give to the wrongs committed by the Romans, rulers in the Holy Land during that time? Virtually none.
They had much bigger fish to fry. And that was to point to the fact that we need a Savior…and to point to exactly who that Savior was.
Tim: That was an excellent post and one I largely agree with, even though it raises questions more than it provides answers.
My question for you is this: How do you make that work in practice? In the LDS church we try to keep Jesus front and center through weekly observance of the sacrament/communion. Other churches do something similar, or they may use imagery (such as the cross at the front of sanctuary) or a lectionary that includes regular Gospel readings for the same purpose. Yet I’ve been to both LDS and non-LDS services where Jesus didn’t really seem to be there and/or wasn’t much of a focus.
And the fact is that Jesus and the scriptures have called us to do the gospel, yet none of us can do everything that would be good to do. Whatever we do, whatever churches do — and the things you mentioned in your post are all good things if done in a balanced manner — we can say that Jesus is bigger than that. So what does it mean as a practical matter to keep Jesus at the center? Is it a matter of attitude, or is it something more? Or am I missing the point?
Its an interesting phenomena. I think this may be a symptom of over-intellectualizing things. Essentially reasoning out the concept of sanctity.
Conceptually, Mormons think many Evangelical churches offer “skittles” every week in some form to make their church more attractive and not boring.
This is also a symptom of competing for a certain demographic, the barely-theist socially conscious liberal person is more attracted to the buzz over this than they are all that stuffy sacrifice and devotion stuff. My guess that Churches are going to be luring the internet generation by trying to tie their church into the buzzfeed like this church is doing here.
“And the fact is that Jesus and the scriptures have called us to do the gospel…”
Where is the call to do the gospel?
Matthew Chapters 5-7. John Chapter 14. Matthew 11:29,
Gospel isn’t in any of those citations, much less a call to do the gospel.
Wherever someone preaches or teaches about the forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus, the gospel is done (to the hearers). And wherever one is Baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the gospel is done. Matthew 28:19,20
I guess those are calls to do IN the Gospel.
I think that Gospel is a terrific word, and one that should be read in the context that it is being used. Doug Moo in his commentary on Romans explains that Paul can use the word a number of different ways, the message of the good news itself or activity of preaching are both common but, Paul also uses it in a broader meaning where it becomes the “functionally the equivalent to “Christ” or God’s intervention in Christ”
Understanding this, I think the quickest way to loose your center focus hold on Christ is to try to DO what has already been accomplished by the Lord.
I understand that I come from a minority in American Protestant circles that confesses the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and believes an actual spiritual nourishment and growth in grace in Christ, through the Holy Spirit takes place where faith is strengthened and increased. Even if you reject this spiritual communion with Christ and fellow believers, taking only a memorialist view of the Eucharist (thanksgiving), then you must still agree that the command to eat and drink in remembrance is to put the whole of Christ and his work (the gospel in the broadest) in the center of your worship. Trying to DO the whole work of Christ doesn’t sound like good news.
While I grieve the senselessness of Martin’s death, I think I agree with Tim that replacing the remembrance of Christ in honor of Trayvon Martin misses the point that only Christ will rule in Justice.
The ‘doing’ part of the gospel is actually a bit misunderstood by many Christians.
It is God who DOES the gospel…to us. In His Word of promise given in preaching and teaching about the cross of Christ for sinners…and in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper…and in the Bible.
I’m with you, gundek. He commanded it (the Supper)…so He is in it. He never commanded us to do anything where He would be in it, acting for us.
Jared C answered:
Good response. I was thinking specifically of James 1:22 when I wrote that. I may not have used the best paraphrase, but it seems to me that a gospel that doesn’t call us to do anything isn’t one worth bothering with. I’m not suggesting we should try “to do the whole work of Christ,” only that those who seek to follow Christ are called to a new life, and it’s not a life of laziness.
” I’m not suggesting we should try “to do the whole work of Christ,” only that those who seek to follow Christ are called to a new life, and it’s not a life of laziness.”
That’s not gospel. That is law. The law demands performance…grace inspires it.
Anything that we should, ought, or must be doing…is law.
That God forgives those who are unwilling…is the gospel.
So what does it mean as a practical matter to keep Jesus at the center? Is it a matter of attitude, or is it something more? Or am I missing the point?
I think there are many more things for a church to focus on that strictly Jesus and his death. That’s why I’m not all opposed to the general message of social justice. But I presume part of the reason a church serves the Eucharist is in order to set aside a portion of the service in order to remember Jesus and his sacrifice.
Every church has their favorite part of the Bible and I don’t even think that’s necessarily a bad thing. We all have our own unique giftings and callings. But we can never forget that we’re called to entire message of reconciliation, not just our favorite parts of it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with social justice. It is a very good thing and we should all work towards it. But it is not the gospel. You don’t even have to be a Christian to be concerned about social justice…and that is also a good thing.
I would ask you the same question I asked Jarred, where does James say DO the gospel?
I am not sure why distinguishing between the gospel and what we DO implies laziness but, the gospel does call us to something. Belief.
Read James 1, he assumes belief, faith, in his hearers. You cannot hope to have a non-existent belief tried producing steadfastness.
As we sing from the Psalter:
With me thy servant, in thy grace,
deal bountifully, Lord:
That by thy favor I may live,
and duly keep thy word.
Open mine eyes, that of thy law
the wonders I may see.
I am a stranger on this earth,
hide not thy laws from me.
We do many things because of the gospel. We are liberated to love the law as a result of the gospel. Confusing the gospel with what we DO is exactly the type of theological contradiction that puts skittles on the Lord’s Table.
I feel like a bit of a troll, but.– Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon us.
I think the contradiction that puts Skittles on the Lord’s table is the idea that you church can be anything, even if it is outside the spirit of the Gospels. Mormons are generally less political than Evangelicals–mainly because being political causes disunion among a diverse group.
Why are they protesting the controversial state of American self-defense law as part of their worship in Christian Church? Are they protesting against Zimmerman? The symbolism is confusing– or simply stupid. Remembering the sacrifice of Jesus for humanity by remembering the sacrifice Trayvon martin made for skittles and tea– it’s a conceptual train wreck.
Jared C said:
Also well said.
In what universe are Mormons known for being particularly diverse?
The Church is moving toward being a more global church. 30 years from now the demographics will be quite different. The Church has ostensibly stayed out of national politics for quite a while, venturing in at their peril in the U.S. Evangelical churches engaged in politics generally represent a smaller and more homogeneous constituency compared to the global LDS church.
You’re comparing evangelical churches in America against the global LDS church? Come on Jared, you know better than that. Why not just compare Provo area wards against American Evangelicals?
All I am saying is that, as a rule, a local church engaging in Politics does not cost it as many members as a global church engaging openly in politics. The fact that the church has to maintain unity at all costs is an important temper to its political involvement.
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