“…I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse…. Whoever… eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord….For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves”(1 Corinthians 11:17, 27, 29).

“Gracious God, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these your gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. Send us out in the power of the Spirit to live for others, as Christ lived for us…” (from a Eucharistic prayer, Book of Common Worship, Presbyterian Church [USA]).

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

At the beginning of this week, I read an article in the daily e-newsletter I get from Inside Higher Education. It was about an atheist biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris who used his personal blog to defend the actions of a University of Central Florida student. To protest the presence of religious groups on his campus, the student had removed a consecrated wafer from a Mass rather than consuming it. Myers wondered why the student’s actions were regarded as such a big deal.

He and his university were bombarded with emails attacking him and calling for him to be sanctioned “for insulting Catholic teachings.” (More on the treatment he received below.) In response, according to the article, Myers “responded by staging what he called a ‘great desecration.’ For the desecration, he took a communion wafer (sent to him by a supporter in the United Kingdom, who removed it from a church there), and pierced it with a rusty nail….He then threw it in the garbage with a banana peel and coffee grounds, symbols of refuse. But to show that he wasn’t picking on Catholics, Myers added to his mixture some ripped out pages of the Koran. As a proud atheist, Myers isn’t a member of a faith that he could desecrate at the same time, so he took a text he does cherish —The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins — and tore some pages out and added them to the trash” (Scott Jaschik, “Crusade Against a Crusader,” http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/07/28/myers).

Dr. Myers didn’t have to go to all that trouble. Christians really don’t need an atheist biologist to desecrate the body of Christ; we do it very well all on our own, thank you.

For example, according to the article, the expressions of outrage from churchgoers concerning the professor’s project included insistence on his firing or censure, hate emails, and threats against himself along with implied threats against his children. A religious organization mounted a campaign in which Dr. Myers was called so hostile to Christians that believing students could not expect fair treatment from him. The group also put him in the same category as child pornographers and racists.

How exactly does that follow the example of the One who taught us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and from the cross asked forgiveness for his executioners? How will threats against an unbelieving skeptic’s children convince him of anything other than that he was right about the hypocrisy of the Church? None of the actions of “Christians” in this case was honoring to Jesus, whose “body” they claimed to revere so highly.

Or consider an incident in my own ministry in Kentucky which I will never forget. It was Holy Thursday and a small group of people had gathered for the Eucharist. We had announced beforehand that Communion would be offered only by the ancient and honored method of intinction, in which each worshipper dips his or her wafer in a common cup. Two elderly “ladies” remained in their pews while others were coming to receive the Sacrament. That would’ve been fine, except they were complaining loudly that they were not being offered Communion by the method they were used to. Their commentary was highly disruptive, and I wanted to stop right there and rebuke them in the name of Christ for dishonoring his Table with their contentiousness. But I didn’t. After the service, their carping continued, and I did convince them to take the Sacrament in the manner offered that evening, not wanting them to be left out. They did it begrudgingly, and when I asked one of them why she objected to intinction, she said it was “too Catholic” and “not the way she was brought up.” She preferred the “traditional” way. An influential church officer blamed me for my insensitivity to them (!), despite my efforts at conciliation. I even said I would bring the Sacrament to their homes. They would have none of it. It wasn’t really the Lord’s Supper they wanted, in any form or fashion; it was power and control. They didn’t care that they had disrupted worship for thirty or so others.

However we understand what happens at the Eucharist, Christians desecrate the body of Christ when like those women and that officer we seek and use power for our own ends. We do it when we hate and threaten violence in his name or when we accumulate wealth but do not share it to help our neighbors. We dishonor our Sovereign when we come to worship not to give glory to God but to network, to see and be seen. We regard him as nothing when we consider ourselves consumers of religious services provided by professionals rather than partners in a community devoted to justice and compassion (“I’m just a paying customer,” a church member once told me). We profane Jesus’ name when we fail even to try to live as he taught and instead follow the world’s values.

But there is hope. There are those few who are serious about living their faith, even giving themselves for others as Jesus did. God uses them to convict and call the rest of us. We can learn from them and try by God’s grace to follow their example.

Like Greg McKendry. On Monday of this week, I heard about him. McKendry was the first to encounter the angry shotgun-wielding, liberal-hating madman who had come to the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, TN during a Sunday service to kill as many as he could. McKendry stood in front of a blast to protect other members. And when he did, his was the body of Christ.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham