Who Comes to the Table?

After high school, as my own faith grew into something I claimed rather than simply inherited, I increasingly embraced Methodism’s world view.

My adult fafood-23453_1280ith began to take form one Sunday morning in the late 1980s when I went to Catholic mass with a friend from my Lutheran college and her dad. When it came time for communion, we all stayed in our seats. I already knew she and I weren’t allowed to go up. She was Lutheran like her mom, so both of us were Protestants. Catholic communion is only open to Catholics. But I was perplexed by why her dad remained seated. So later, I asked her. She responded that he wasn’t allowed because he’d divorced and remarried.

I was taken aback. For Christians, communion is a powerful symbol of God’s forgiveness. For most Protestants, it is one of only two sacraments—the other being baptism. In the Christian Bible, the first communion takes place the night before the Romans take Jesus away to kill him. He breaks bread and offers wine, saying to his disciples that the bread and wine represent his body and blood—the things he is allowing to be sacrificed to atone for his follwers’ sins. He instructs them to, “do this in remembrance of me.”

Different denominations interpret this moment differently, and I have a different relationship to it than when I was 19, but regardless, it remains a powerful ritual, all the more so in denominations like Methodism with few formal rituals.

In some churches, communion is limited to certain people, say, those who have been baptized or belong to that particular denomination. Or it can be closed to those who behave a certain way or fit a certain mold. Are you divorced? Sorry. Are you gay? This table isn’t for you.

But the churches that speak to my soul don’t take this approach. They don’t make the clergy gatekeepers between the congregants and God. And they don’t require you to be whole in some fundamental way that they have defined. They say “all are welcome at this table.” They understand that the people there have experienced life in all its complexity, and they say, “you are welcome here.” In a Christian context, this is what I most fundamentally believe. Jesus meant for all to come to this table. The grace it promises is there for the taking. And the bread and wine should be available to those who want to turn toward grace, not just those who have already turned toward it.

Before I went to Mass that day, I hadn’t thought much about the broad invitation Methodist ministers would extend before offering communion. After it, that kind of open communion became something I specifically looked for in a church, because it reflects what I most fundamentally did—and still do—believe about God. We are all loved; we are all welcome.

That viewpoint–that the tent should be open, the table set for all–has informed many of my subsequent choices about religious practice.