Communion as “Trans-Participation”

The church staff attended “Pastor’s Day” at the Okoboji Bible Conference yesterday.  Good stuff and good company.  Many times pastor’s gatherings are rather stuffy and just a bit boring.  We had three fabulous speakers. Skye Jethani, senior editor for Leadership Journal began the day with provocative challenges to contemporary ministry.  A lot of his comments were push-back from some of the stuff I’ve heard in ministry methodology for the last twenty years.  Refreshing.  Bob Thune, brother of Sen. John from SD and previously the pastor of Christ Community Church in Omaha, shared his stunning story of being released from his position as lead pastor in a very large church in California.  It was sobering but also encouraging as he recounted the affirmation of ministry that he received from many individuals in his church.  We never really see what is going on underneath the surface.  Occasionally, God allows a peek.  We’re probably having more impact than we’ll ever know this side of eternity.
Ross Hastings was the last speaker of the day.  He is an associate professor in pastoral theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC.  I pretty much hung on his every word.  He speaks my new-found language of the last ten years:  missio Dei, metanarrative, Trinitarian theology and the like.  The final thrust of his talk was centered on the Lord’s Table.  He said that if he were ever to return to local church ministry that he would focus worship on the table rather than the sermon.  I agree, but that agenda is too radical for my faith community.  He did make a comment that was incredibly profound.  It went something like this:
“I don’t care how you view the elements, as transubstantiation (Catholic & Orthodox), consubstantiation (Lutheran), as a memorial (Reformed traditions), real presence (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox), or real absence (all the rest…that was funny!), the Lord’s Table is trans-participation.”
I don’t know if he really knew how profound he was.  (He probably did.)  I’ve studied and taught on the meaning of anamnesis – the Hebrew concept of remembering and I’ve never heard it put in such clever and clear language.  Participation with Christ in his complete work of salvation (death, resurrection and ascension) is what biblical rememberance at the Table is all about.  It is the mystery that we are invited into union with Christ.  Check your New Testament and the theology of St. Paul.  Union with Christ is what St. Peter is talking about when he says that we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4).  I’ve unpacked this idea of biblical remembrance in an earlier blog.  ("Remember What?" )
“Trans-participation.”  Wow!  That’s profound.


  1. I like Hastings' idea of wanting to center on the Lord's Table, as oppose to the sermon. I would like to hear more on his reasons and what he decides to do when it comes to explaining to the faith community that "we will now be having a different element as focus of our worship togetherness. From now on, we will focus on the Lord's Table, rather than the sermon." Personally, I'm intrigued. Does he have any more information/details on this transition?

    And I definitely agree with you on the excitement resonating from hearing "trans-participation". Great epiphany.

    I noticed that you said he is "missio Dei, metanarrative, Trinitarian theology and the like," but does he belong, support, or pastor a non-denominational faith community? If not, what kind of faith community does he choose to immerse himself?

    Great post! Thanks for sharing, Bob.

  2. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NIV) seems to support Hastings' claim. I am referencing this passage because of the overuse of "participation" in accordance with The Lord's Table.

    "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."

    Thought it was interesting.
    Again, thanks for the post. As you can see, it's making me think. It's also one of my favorite topics.

  3. Bethany,

    He used to both pastor a church and teach at Regent. But his wife went through a serious illness and died. It was too much for him and he had to choose one. I'm certain he is involved in a local faith community, just not as a pastor.

    There are many theologians who would locate the focus of weekly worship at the table rather than in the sermon. Webber would certainly be one, but there are others who carry even more weight:

    Wolfhart Pannenberg states it very clearly in a collection of essays called Christian Spirituality: “The Eucharist, not the sermon, is in the center of the church’s life.”

    Joel Scandrett unpacks Pannenberg in an essay entitled “Reclaiming Eucharistic Piety” in Ancient and Postmodern Christianity. (I may have given students that essay in the worship course or the emerging worship course – can’t remember. I know I cited it somewhere.)

    Hastings was citing David F. Ford in Self and Salvation, a book that I’ve just ordered.

    There are many Protestant theologians who would put the focus on the Table rather than the sermon. Generally, they will be from Lutheran or Anglican traditions, however. No surprise there.

    It is a concept worthy of the church’s reflection, though I don’t see many communities in the low-church tradition (what most would call “non-liturgical”) changing their focus. I think Hastings would be in that category, but now he is an academic rather than a pastor where it is much easier to posit those concepts.

    Thanks for posting!

  4. Bethany,
    Would have posted earlier, but my computer at work wouldn't let me do it for some reason. My home computer is more friendly.

    Appreciated your second post as well. The use of the word "participation" in the text is very interesting. I have no training whatsoever in Greek so I can't comment. But it might be very enlightening to do a little word study on that text.

    You're an excellent thinker. Like you, this topic is one of my passions.



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