The Angelus

Volume 18, Number 36


Last Sunday’s gospel included Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer—as it does every three years in the lectionary cycle. This year I had one additional resource in preparing my sermon: The Didache: A Commentary (1998) by Kurt Niederwimmer. “Didache” is a Greek word; it means “teaching.” The Didache is a text I learned about in seminary, “approximately the length of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians” (Niederwimmer, 1). It’s not a gospel, but a manual about the common life of the unnamed author’s community. Scholars now generally date this text to the 90s—contemporary with the Gospel According to John. (Matthew and Luke were probably written a decade earlier.) The Didache was known in the first centuries of the Christian era but last referenced in a text dated 829. Its rediscovery in 1883 was a major scholarly find.


The wording of the Lord’s Prayer in the Didache is closer to that of Matthew 6:9–13, than that of Luke 11:1–4, but it is its own version. More than a few different versions of the prayer were in use in the first centuries of the Christian era—and afterwards. We have no evidence that the Lord’s Prayer, like what we call the eucharistic “words of institution,” was part of the eucharistic liturgy until the late fourth century (Paul Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins [2004], 140, 152–53).


Here is the text of the prayer from the Didache:


Our Father who are in heaven,

May your name be acclaimed as holy,

May your kingdom come,

May your will come to pass on earth as it does in


Give us today our daily bread,

And cancel for us our debt

As we cancel for those who are indebted to us,

And do not bring us into temptation,

But preserve us from evil,

For power and glory are yours forever.

Pray this way thrice daily. (Neiderwimmer, 134; Didache 8:2–3)


I ordered the commentary on the Didache last summer because the General Convention came very close to overturning one of the basic disciplines Christians have sustained since the time of the New Testament: only the baptized may receive communion. I knew from seminary that the subject of who could receive the Eucharist came up in the Didache. This is the verse: “Let no one eat or drink of your thanksgiving save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord, since the Lord has said concerning this, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs’ ” (Niederwimmer, 144 [Didache, 9:5]). This standard remains normative in Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic communities in the West and among all of the Orthodox in the East. That said, almost certainly the reason this practice was stated in the Didache was because some communities were sharing the meal of Christian fellowship—there’s no “Mass” as we know it in the first century—with the unbaptized.


The practice of inviting nonbaptized persons to receive communion (generally called “Open Communion”) is now quite widespread in the Episcopal Church. If memory serves, our bishop remarked at the priests’ conference in April that 70 percent of the congregations of our diocese invite the unbaptized to join in receiving communion. I don’t want to preclude the work of the Holy Spirit in my own life or yours, yet I remain unconvinced of this very significant theological change in our doctrine, discipline, and worship. I can’t help thinking that this practice diminishes both the witness and the evangelical power of “the two great sacraments of the Gospel . . . Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist” (BCP, 858). I think it confuses hospitality, inquiry, and welcome with conversion in Christ.


And I don’t think it’s unimportant that when “The Peace,” anciently a kiss, was reintroduced into our liturgies in the 1970s, it was, and has been, experienced as a gesture of greeting and welcome. But in the first centuries of the Christian era, in the Mediterranean world normally only family members exchanged kisses. Christians stood apart from the cultural norm by exchanging a kiss with persons related by faith, not biology. In the centuries of persecution, Jesus’ response, when told his mother and brothers were asking for him, was heard differently than we generally hear it. He said, “looking around on those who sat about him, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ ” (Mark 3:32–35). Hence, the kiss. (See Paul F. Bradshaw, “The Relationship between Historical Research and Modern Liturgical Practice,” in A Living Tradition, ed. David Pitt and others [2012], 7–9).


While in seminary I met a few fellow students who were my age, lifelong Episcopalians, who had been receiving communion since they were baptized as infants. I’m confident that they experienced the power of their baptism at some point in their lives when they realized that God had always fed them. I remember very clearly being baptized at the age of 10, young but permissible to the Southern Baptist tradition, and receiving communion for the first time. I remember attending an Episcopal parish as a teenager and seeing everyone drinking from the same cup. Later, I remember what an enormous impression it made on me while I was in college that I was welcome to receive communion at the local Episcopal parish because I had been baptized—a new thing then for Episcopalians. Quite honestly, a few years earlier I would have needed to wait for confirmation. Looking back, I’d like to think I would have waited: Christ’s presence in the Eucharist had already grabbed my soul.


Let me add, with respect to the Didache, that I don’t think of the unbaptized and non-Christians as “dogs.” Never have, never will. There’s one flock, one shepherd. With respect, I believe God is in relationship with all human beings. The normative pattern of Christian initiation seems right to me. I don’t want us to lose the sacramental power and witness of men, women, and children being washed into the risen life of Christ and being fed while still wet and anointed with Christ’s Body and Blood. —Stephen Gerth


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Adoni, Jessica, Sally, Julie, Abraham, Dominque, Chandra, Charlie, Julie, Carolyn, Jean, Barbara, Juliana, Margaret, David, Dolly, Sharon, Penny, Heidi, Catherine, Sally, Donald, Sam, Burton, Toussaint, Dennis, Arpene, Takeem, Sidney, DEACON, Horace, Paulette, Gaylord, Harry, Louis, PRIESTS, and Russell, BISHOP; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and Nicholas . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 31: 1915: Edward Lyman Stevens; 1928 Byron George Clark; 1936 Charles Henry Kerner; 1956 Louise Wenz.