“No Soup for You”

Someone recently asked me to name persons of influence on my ministerial career; and in a flippant mood I responded, “Jesus, Jack, Jerry, and John.” I meant, of course, Jesus our Lord, British scholar and writer C. S. Lewis (known to friends as Jack), Jerry Seinfeld the comedian, and in recent years, John Prine, the singer and songwriter.

 

Which explains why the current hubbub in the Roman Catholic Church about who can and cannot be served at the Eucharist made me think of the Soup Nazi. For those indifferent to first rate comedy, the Soup Nazi is a character in several of the Seinfeld episodes from the 1990’s. He runs a popular soup kitchen in New York City but is known for the strict protocols of ordering and paying for a cup of soup. Jerry obeys the rules and gets his soup; but George and Elaine run afoul of the frowning proprietor and thus hear the now-famous judgment, “No soup for you!” (Search with those words on YouTube to watch the hilarious sketch.)

 

Catholics (and a few other Christian groups) already use that phrase for a wide swath of believing people…like me. I attend mass occasionally, and when I do I obey the Roman Catholic rules: I take my place in line, fold my arms across my chest, and approach the priest serving the elements. I am sending a signal, the designated signal, that I am not a Catholic and thus am requesting a blessing rather than communion. The priest obliges, sets the wafer and cup aside, and gives me a blessing, using the sign of the cross and a few spoken words.

 

It is not just non-believers and non-Catholics who are subject to this “No bread for you” treatment; several categories of baptized Catholics are included, like divorced (and civilly remarried) persons and those with unconfessed (grave) sins. And we might add: persons who fail to embrace Catholic teaching on a wide range of moral issues, such as euthanasia, care for the poor and sick, and welcome to the stranger.

 

All of this is laid out in what they call Canon Law, especially sections 912, 915, and 916. Some contend, in their commentaries on these things, that a non-compliant Catholic represents not a personal failure in need of judgment but an institutional failure—that is, the Church has failed to teach in a compelling and convincing way the standards of Christian morality.

 

All the rules aside, I have my own thoughts on the matter. I don’t like being a second-class Christian when I attend mass. I don’t like being publicly segregated from the people at worship. I do my best to participate: kneeling, singing, greeting, listening, praying, and reading. But when it comes to the apex of the Catholic worship service—the Eucharist—I am excluded.  For no good reason.  I have been a practicing Christian all my life. I was baptized at the age of nine and ordained to gospel work at the age of twenty-seven. I have served (what we call) the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) hundreds of times.

 

Not that I am perfect: as a person, a pastor, or even as a believer. Like everyone else who enters a sanctuary and kneels in prayer, I am a sinner saved by grace. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. So declares the Word of God.

 

Frankly, I’m not so enamored with this ritual any way it is performed: at the mass in a Catholic Church or at the close of worship in a Baptist Church. What captivated my imagination many years ago was the fellowship supper, where all are welcome and there are no exclusions. This gathering around a table to eat a common meal—known in the Bible as the Agape Feast—is precisely what Jesus did throughout his ministry. “He eats with sinners,” his critics asserted, and so he did.

 

My favorite Jesus story is of the day he was passing through Jericho. He saw the wee little man in a sycamore tree and called him by name: “Zacchaeus! Come down from the tree! I want to go to your house for dinner.” And he did; and while eating, he must have spoken about the gospel, the kingdom of God, and the gifts of confession and conversion. Because, at the end of the meal, Zacchaeus stood up and announced he was changing and going in a new direction. “I will give half my wealth to the poor and reimburse anyone I have cheated.” Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”

 

This is the kind of meal I prefer, not in the sanctuary but in the fellowship hall or in your home or mine: the kind of gathering open to all—saint and sinner, pilgrim and stranger, young and old, the committed and the curious. It is the sort of social/spiritual event where never is heard a discouraging word, especially that awful phrase, “No soup for you!”

 

Dwight A. Moody
June 2021