Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fire Communion

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when 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 also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Driving down Morgan Ave. in Evansville, IN I passed by this Unitarian Universalist Church and noticed that their sign said, "Fire Communion". Perplexed by this I had to pull into the parking lot to think about what this could possibly mean and, of course, snap a quick photograph. Perhaps this is a common thing among the UU's; I must admit that I was hitherto unfamiliar with Unitarian Universalism and it's beliefs (which it sort of denies having...), and it was the first time I had been exposed to that particular phrase. All sorts of strange visions began dancing through my head, most of them requiring the use of flame retardant vestments and copious amounts of burn cream.
My exotic visions were quickly dispersed, however, when I did some quick research on the internet. According to the church's (term used extremely loosely) website, the Fire Communion service is a ritual used to usher in the new year:
Come help us celebrate the New Year with our Fire Ceremony. In this service, congregants burn pieces of paper containing brief descriptions of something they most wish to leave behind and light a candle for a new hope for the coming year (Unitarian Universalist Church of Evansville, 2013).

So, people get together and burn up slips of paper with their failings and annoyances written on them in a symbolic, and I suspect ultimately fruitless, gesture of self-improvement. And with what, finally are you communing? Each other? I suppose, being Unitarian Universalists, that is left up to you:
Ours is a religion with deep roots in the Christian tradition, going back to the Reformation and beyond, to early Christianity. Over the last two centuries our sources have broadened to include a spectrum ranging from Eastern religions to Western scientific humanism. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) identify with and draw inspiration from Atheism and Agnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity, Humanism, Judaism, Earth-Centered Traditions, Hinduism, Islam, and more. Many UUs have grown up in these traditions—some have grown up with no religion at all. UUs may hold one or more of those traditions’ beliefs and practice its rituals. In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart (Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, 2013).

Not exactly what you would call orthodox Christianity. They could have saved me some time by calling this gathering what it is to begin with - a service of New Year's resolutions.
The problem is, this kind of "service" doesn't do anything to help anyone. All of those things we write on the piece of paper, that we want to leave behind in the old year - the anger, the hate, the gluttony, the laziness, the whatever-bothers-you - that is what God calls sin. And even though we'd like to think that we are able to cure our sin by an assertion of our will and the performance of some work, we all, deep down, know differently. We can't do it. Someone has to take care of these things for us.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
That is the beauty of Christmas. At Christmas the one who would graciously redeem us from sin came into the world. Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became also true man. He did this for the expressed purpose of dying on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of mankind. This is what Christianity is all about. He resolved to do this, in obedience to the will of the Father, before all eternity, and before man could do anything to earn God's favor. While we were enemies, scripture says, Christ died for the ungodly:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
In the Sacrament of the Altar, also called Holy Communion, Jesus gives us his true body and blood to eat and to drink in a way we cannot understand, in, with, and under the visible elements of bread and wine. It is truly a communion, not only between those who gather to hear his word and receive his sacrament, but between those believers and Christ himself. He gives us the forgiveness of sins he won for us by his death and resurrection. The bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, connected with the promise, "Given and shed for the forgiveness of sins," are a pledge of that forgiveness and eternal life we already have in Christ by faith. Communion is spiritual food which nourishes our faith and assures us that, by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, our sins are forgiven, and we have been declared righteous before God for Christ's sake.
Just about every year I make a resolution to eat more healthfully, to exercise more, to be nicer, blah, blah, blah. There's nothing wrong with resolutions, necessarily, it's just that, more often than not, I've practically broken them before they've been resolved. And furthermore, simply learning how to eat better, or less, or how to control our tempers better, or even to do more volunteer hours will not cure the disease of sin from which we are ailing. Only Christ can take away our sin.
He has taken it away. Once you repent and believe in him you stand declared righteous before God. After he has made you into a new creation in Christ, God's Law, which previously condemned us by showing us our sinfulness, will now also serve as a guide to our behavior. As we grow in Christ, he will assist us in conforming how we do act with how we "should" act, and Fire Communion ceremonies will seem to us as ridiculous and unnecessary as they are. 

God will indeed deal with mankind's sin using fire. This will happen on the Last Day, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, when every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Christ is Lord:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells....Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 20:11-15).
Praise be to God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who bore the punishment we deserved on the cross of Calvary, so that our sins would be washed away by his blood, and our names would be written in the Book of Life.
O Lord, our God, in the name of whose only-begotten Son we have been called to be Christians and have been blest with Baptism for the remission of sins, make us, we pray, ready to receive the most holy body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins and to give thanks with grateful hearts to you, O Father, to your Son, and to the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen (Lutheran Worship, 1982)

Works Cited

"Are My Beliefs Welcome?" Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2013.

"Fire Communion." Unitarian Universalist Church of Evansville. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2013.

Lutheran Worship. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1982. Print.