Awhile back a reader commented on a post I wrote on Open Worship:
A new Friend shared with me that she had started reading about the other branches of Quakerism. She concluded with these words. Going to a Quaker Meeting with no unprogrammed worship would be like a Episcopalian going to a Eucharistic without bread and wine. I was so amazed that being a new Friend that she had already conclude that unprogrammed worship is the normative of Quakerism.
I’ve written various thoughts on Quakers and open or silent worship, and even some thoughts on how we see silent worship as our communion. This is because this topic really interests me as one who used to be a Catholic. One of the things I’ve written was published in Quaker Life in 2007 titled “Sacramental Living, Redemptive Practices and Convergent Friends,” where I write about how Friends have tended to focus not on limiting sacraments to seven (Catholics) or two (most other Protestants) but see all of life as potentially sacramental, and therefore we seek to engage in what I called redemptive practices. ((following the work of Ryan Bolger)) And while this is all well and good, the comment above gets at a deeper point about communion in the Quaker church. The other week (during Holy Week) a very simple explanation of why we see silence as so important emerged.
Every other Christian church I know of practices breaking bread and drinking wine to symbolize and remember what? Christ’s work on the cross. This practice remembers, or re-enacts both the literal events of Maundy Thursday and symbolizes the events that take place on Good Friday. This is all well and good, I for one consider myself friendly to these practices. While we attended Pasadena Mennonite for four or so years prior to us moving North we always joined in for their communion celebration. And I have a very strong affinity to John Howard Yoder’s understanding of the Eucharist as a common meal (as found in his book Body Politics).
But the story does not end on Good Friday (the sixth day). And so while remembering Good Friday is fine, what about Sunday morning, the first day of the new creation?
So what “sacrament” remembers resurrection Sunday? If the church really believes that it is born as a result of the new creation inaugurated because of the resurrection, if we really are an “Easter Church,” as many commentators like to say, then what is that we do that re-enacts that?
Quakers meet in silence to commune inwardly with the risen Lord. If Christ truly is risen, and he is here with us when we gather as his body, then we celebrate and remember his resurrection when we wait upon the Lord to speak to us, to touch us, to commune with us personally. We run into problems when a) Quaker meetings no longer practice open/silent worship or practice it with such flippancy that it holds little to no meaning at all, b) when we no longer speak of open worship as communion, when it takes on some alternative meaning because it has been made subject to moden-liberalism (in both its liberal and conservative counterparts) and c) when that communion is no longer connected to the much deeper and rich narrative of the Spirit’s work, Scripture and the inauguration of the new creation in light of the resurrected Jesus.
Communion with Christ is a normative act within the Christian church. The origins of what act is being remembered will be reflected in the weekly life of the church through its understanding of that communion. For Quakers, there’s nothing wrong with the bread and wine, Good Friday happened, but what is essential for us is to truly commune with the risen Christ who is here among us and it is our testimony that silent waiting has been the vehicle, the “transitional object” if you will, that leads us to that communion.
3 responses to “The Resurrection and Quaker Communion”
it is nice to read others thoughts on Friends practices and what is important in their faith walk.
I concur with the author.
Sadly it is hard to have rousing music in this kind of setting but that is less necessary to my sense of worship than the need for contemplation and sharing in open worship.
When I participate in the eucharist, which I still do in an Episcopal Church, I am re-membering Christ Jesus giving himself to us in his life, death and resurrection. During the silence and spoken ministry in the unprogrammed Quaker meeting I am receiving the risen Christ Jesus.
Thank you, Wes, for your insights about the relation of Quaker unprogrammed worship to the resurrection. This is profound and connects some of the dots for me.