Well, they've done it. I went to a church in my neighborhood this past weekend (long story, short version: I was taping interviews) and as I entered, I was handed a program and this, which I had never seen before:
There's a better picture here. It turns out they're now making communion in handy to-go combo cups, with the wafer right there in the top. No mess, no waiting, no crowding the aisles--and of course it's grape juice, not wine. The only thing missing is any actual sense of holiness or, God forbid, human touch.
The Catholic in me was horrified. The whole point of communion is to have an actual encounter with the body and blood of Christ, which is why you need a priest there in the first place. This sort of get-Christ-to-go approach could hardly be more blasphemous. The ecumenical part of me, though, was more ambivalent. Since it seems like superstition anyway, what better way to completely neuter it of any miraculous aura than to get a communion that was mass-produced by a machine?
Ultimately, though, I'm saddened by it. Not because it's tacky, though of course there's that. But because it's a symptom of what too many fundamentalist churches do when they misread the Bible. They get the bare score but none of the music. In his 1977 book Fundamentalism, James Barr points out that evangelicals tend to have an extremely empty theology: they believe in the virgin birth, not because virginity or Mary or any element of the story is a matter of great theological impact or reflection; it's because if you believe the Bible, then you have to believe a number of things in a checklist: the Flood; Adam and Eve; the Virgin Birth, etc. The important point is not the Virgin Birth itself; the important thing is checking it off, and then, having checked it off (thereby proving that you're not a liberal), to move on to the real center of contemporary Christianity in America: quiet times, Bible study, prayer and personal growth. A topic that has been the subject of Christian art for centuries has become, in Bible literalist hands and for all practical purposes, a mere shibboleth.
So in a sense, the Sacramentables are a symptom of a very real tendency in evangelical Christian thought: with no sacraments, no art, and a minimum of distracting symbols, the only reason they have communion is because the Bible tells them to. So why make it more important than it needs to be? A wafer in a prefilled thimble-sized plastic cup is as puny and comma-like a communion as you could conceive of. Of course, they'd never get rid of it entirely--that would be unbiblical! But they definitely show what they think about the Bible's demands by how they dress it up. (I should add, by the way, that this was a Pentecostal church, so you can also see how, in their interpretation of the Bible, direct communion with the Holy Spirit through tongues and miracles knocks a silly old wafer into a cocked miter. So I'm not saying they're spiritually starving, per se; I'm saying their focus has taken them way out of the mainstream of history and tradition.)
In the end, I think I'd prefer an actual meal--shared meals are part of religious ritual even in hunter-gatherer societies--with real wine and actual broken bread (no wafers please!) and no spiritualizing mumbo jumbo, so you could focus on what's really happening: the people, the conversation, the nourishment that all shared meals provide. Whatever all that adds up to, I think it's pretty clear that the Sacramentables offer the exact opposite.
You know what else it is, though? It's pretty fucking hilarious. Encapsulating the entire communion into that little package is just asking for abuse. I mean, how could a juggler resist?