The Meal Isn’t Really Holy Until Everyone Is at the Table
“Do you really mean that anyone is welcome at the communion table?”
So began a conversation after worship last Sunday. With communion at least twice — maybe even more — between now and Easter, I want to include you all in the discussion.
Perhaps, I was a bit more forthright with our open invitation than usual. I had just preached a sermon challenging us to understand that we are a church not because of any — or even all — of our successful or failed, on target or misdirected efforts. We are a church more because of God’s work than our works. It’s not ultimately so much about what we do or don’t get done. Rather, church is what God can do with… or without us, through us… or despite us. So, why sweat the little stuff?
Almost as an unscripted illustration, right after that sermon as we began communion, I realized I had not invited anyone ahead of time to be communion servers. I have an excuse– the non-gluten rice crackers had disappeared from the kitchen, so between 10 and 10:45, I was scurrying around the neighborhood looking for some. I didn’t find any, but picked up some pita.
So having “volun-told” Julie, Alice, Carrie and Colin to serve, and in effect having confessed my own failing before the whole church, I might have extended the invitation with more resolve, I might even have taken a bolder step towards the congregation as I invited everyone forward: “Anyone who wishes to share the meal which Jesus has prepared for us is welcome at this Table.”
Suddenly it hit someone (who is in worship more communion Sundays than not) just how open that invitation is.
“Do you really me ‘anyone?’” I was asked after the service.
“Everyone who — hearing that this is a meal not of our own making, but one Jesus has prepared for us — everyone who wants to receive and to share. Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“And it doesn’t matter what’s going on in someone’s life?”
“At the Last Supper, Jesus had Judas who was to betray him and Peter who was to deny him. In fact, pretty much everyone at the Table was to desert him.”
“What if someone hasn’t been baptized or confirmed or had first communion?”
“One of our newest members — who had all those rites of the church under his belt — started receiving communion at Old First because I told a story about a Jewish guy who showed up once a year on Maundy Thursday for communion.”
(For years, I never dared ask the Jewish guest of my second congregation why he received communion, or what it meant to him, fearing he’d interpret the question from a minister as disapproval. When after four years, I got up my nerve or felt I knew him well enough, he laughed and explained, “My first time, a friend brought me. You said, ‘The Last Supper was probably a Passover seder.’ No Jewish family would have a seder without guests. I’m the Jewish guest you can guess is coming for dinner.”)
“So, they don’t have to be believing Christians?” my after-worship inquirer asked?
“I’m not trying to tell anyone what to believe. Any more than I know what members of the church believe when receiving communion. I’m not forcing anyone. Or trying to convert them. My invitation is exactly what it says: ‘if you want to join us for the meal that none of us is the host at, I’m honored to be at the Table next to you.’”
“Explain that to me.”
“Do you understand how or what God accomplishes when we break bread and share the cup?
“Me either. But do we worry that in God’s love anyone could be unacceptable at the Table? I don’t. Because I believe deeply in a holiness in the heart of every human.
Sometimes we can glimpse it — in others or in ourselves:
~ When someone is inexplicably wiser or more courageous or more loving than possible if left to oneself.
~ When suddenly one is overwhelmed by the joy or tragedy of life. But beneath either or both, one still senses even more — an indestructible, unshakable foundation, an abiding, redeeming holiness that undergirds life itself.
Some of us associate that holiness with God, by one name or another. And some of us never find it in our hearts to make much of a connection.
But, by whatever name we call it, this holiness is at our innermost core; part of the mystery of who we are as human beings. Scientists and philosophers struggle to come up with an explanation of what makes us human. Maybe “the power of holiness buried deep within us all” is the best we can do for a definition of what it means to be human. Holiness, a power deep within us all — though perhaps not “OF” us, that enables us to live with charity, honor, grace.
Church is to help us– to long and look for holiness, to open ourselves to holiness:
~ to listen for it.
~ to let us locate it.
~ maybe even to cradle it in our hands like a candle against the cold drafts of a dark night.
That’s why I believe we are all welcome at the Table — the holiness in us matches the holiness of Jesus. We gather together for the power by which we can keep giving, or at least struggle to figure out how to give, when we could easier give up.
Isn’t that the heart of what we’re trying to remember or re-enact or participate in when we join Jesus at the Table taking bread and sharing it with his disciples?
We will celebrate communion at two services at church:
Maundy Thursday at 7 p.m. when we remember Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper.
Easter morning at 11 a.m. when communion reminds us that there is no way to get to resurrection without crucifixion.
And that discussion last Sunday and this E-pistle have convinced me of something I’d been unsure about: I’m also going to take communion beyond the walls of the church, out into the open, revisiting the corner of 5th and Market, where I offered ashes at the beginning of Lent. It will be warmer than it was back that day. And, now, in Holy Week, I can offer everyone what Jesus offers us all:
“Take, eat, this is my body, given for you. Drink of this cup, the new covenant poured out for all of you in my blood.”
I hope to see you in church this Sunday as we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and at the Table one of these times when we gather to uncover the holiness God offers freely to all, life’s holiness, and our own and others’ holiness — because it’s the substance of God’s self given for all.
P.S. And is there a friend who you should invite with you to church for Holy Week?