Open Table?

duccio13

Last Sunday I broke the rules (sort of).  I included the non-baptized in the invitation to the Lord’s Table.

There is a lively debate going on amongst theologians about whether the Lord’s Supper (Communion/Eucharist) should be open to those who are not baptized.  The Presbyterian Church (USA)  Book of Order states that “all the baptized faithful are to be welcomed to the Table,” but in effect “fences” the Table from the unbaptized.  To limit the invitation to the Table to the baptized is in keeping with the practice of the early Church and two millennia of tradition.

However, Jesus himself practiced “open commensality,” as one theologian puts it.  He dined with sinners and outcasts, including the folks orthodox religionists of his day rejected.  The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which is rooted in the meals of Jesus as well as the Passover Seder, anticipates the eschatological Supper of the Lamb, to which people “from north and south, from east and west” will come.  The Supper is more than a ritual meal for the community of the faithful; it’s a symbol of God’s inclusive love for the whole world.  That being the case, “fencing” the Table seems inconsistent with the gospel.

I would never want to sever the link between Baptism and Communion.  Baptism is the sign of entrance and welcome into the covenant community.  Communion is the “family meal” of the household of God, but it is more than that.  To eat and drink at the Table is to offer oneself as “living sacrifice” in service to the Triune God.

Although it is hospitable to open the Table to all present, I would not want the Eucharist to be reduced to a ritual of mere hospitality.  There is a mystery at the heart of the Supper.  It is, spiritually, a sharing of the body and blood of Christ.  Who should be invited to share that mystery?  Only the baptized?  Or should the Supper be open to those seeking the “the way, the truth, and life?”

Central to Reformed theology is the notion of “prevenient grace.”  Divine grace always “goes ahead” of human response.  If Presbyterians didn’t believe this, we’d have no business baptizing infants.  The same grace enacted in Baptism is the grace enacted in the Supper.  When we baptize – and when we come to the Table – we are responding to the Spirit’s gracious prompting.

Last Sunday was the Feast of Epiphany.  Epiphany it is the celebration of God’s manifestation to the Gentiles – outsiders.  The Magi remind us that we do not control the workings of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ.  Standing at the Table last Sunday, I could not NOT welcome everyone who is hungry to come to the feast.  By broadening the invitation to the Table I broke (or at least bent) the rules.  That goes against my nature as a Presbyterian.  Sometimes, however, grace trumps decency and order.

If the Session of my church concurs, I’d like to change the wording in the bulletin regarding who is welcomed to the Table to something along these lines:  The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is open to Christians of all denominations and to all those who are hungry for the Bread of Life.  Our Savior invites all who love and wish to serve him to share this holy meal.

About Brant Copeland

I was born in Brownsville, Texas, grew up in San Antonio and in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Open Table?

  1. Jennifer Carter says:

    Bravo! I congratulate your progressive attitude and willingness to think openly. I remember reading “Take this Bread” by Sara Miles with you in the Pastor’s Book Club 5 years ago. I was deeply impressed by her church’s similar approach to the Eucharist. It seemed so radical, yet so right.

  2. Joyce L. Crawford says:

    Thank you so much for addressing something that has made me uncomfortable since I joined the church. Some years ago, I visited a Lutheran Church and was told that since I was not a member of a Lutheran Church I could not partake in communion – that it would be a sacrilige! I was very upset and felt this was not what Jesus had in mind when he broke the bread and poured the wine in that upper room. I wrote the pastor of that church and asked him on what Biblical principle he denied anyone to partake. I got a very long reply stating many points from the Book of Luther – none from the Bible. I think the determination factor should be – What would Jesus have said if I/you had walked into the upper room?

  3. Sue Safford says:

    Thank you, and I agree with your suggested wording for the bulletin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s