There was a controversy in my church back home. I was too young to remember, but I’ve heard the story. You see, in Baptist churches like mine, everyone takes the Lord’s Supper all at once, so rather than kneeling at the altar the elements were passed to us in the pews. The Lord’s Supper was an extra job for the ushers once a month (as Baptists generally take the Eucharist once a month), not to mention all the time it took the ladies-it was always ladies dealing with food-to pour the “fruit of the vine” into those little communion cups and break the unleavened crackers into bite-sized pieces. We didn’t use wafers or anything that smacked of papism.
The ushers and ladies decided that a monthly Eucharist was just too much work and suggested that we celebrate it quarterly. The traditionalists in the church were outraged. After all, we always celebrated the Lord’s Supper once a month. But the ushers, always the theologians, reminded them that the Lord’s Supper was “a symbol of the Lord’s death until he comes again” and that we had a cross hanging in the sanctuary to that end. Besides, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder? Apparently so, because as long as I can remember we celebrated the Eucharist once a quarter. I never really thought much of it until I came to Eastern.
My conversion took place in Dr. Mrs. Peterson’s class. Dr. Peterson was speaking-eloquently as she does-about two Medieval theologians, Radbertus and Ratramnus who famously debated how the body of Christ was present in the Eucharist. Here, I realized, were two ninth-century theologians debating the Eucharist just like my little Baptist church. Well, not quite.
While my church was debating whether it was more important to save the energy required for passing plates of juice and crackers or to celebrate a monthly Eucharistic feast, Radbertus and Ratramnus were just as fiercely debating how the Lord of the universe was present with them each time they gathered. The only thing that overshadowed the vehemence with which they argued was the depth of the agreement from which the debate sprang: that this was the most important event in the life of the church. With my eyes newly opened, it took only a cursory glance at church history to recognize that in this regard, Radbertus and Ratramnus didn’t stand out in a crowd. Sitting in the back of a church history class, only half paying attention, I realized that the most important act of worship in the life of the church was absent from my Christian experience, often sloughed off for a longer sermon or a chance to beat the Methodists to the IHOP.
I never really settled into a denomination in college. I’m still not settled into a denomination, but I know that wherever I end up, I will never again be cut off so dramatically from the church but will continue, Lord willing, to gather with the whole communion of saints around the table Christ has prepared for us.
Joe Smith graduated from Eastern in December of 2007. He majored in theological studies and minored in biblical studies as well as philosophy. Joe also served as part of the student chaplain program for three years.