Way back in 2008 I was the Lead Pastor of an old Dutch Reformed Church.
(Stop right now and try to imagine that. I’ll wait. Finding me in the pulpit every Sunday in one of the most theologically conservative and traditional churches on the planet.)
And I’ll never forget the first time I was going to serve communion to the congregation.
[ SIDE NOTE: communion, for those who might not be aware, is when the pastor or priest serves the congregation a small piece of bread and small cup of wine as an act of remembering the Last Supper (which was the meal that Jesus ate with His disciples the night before He was crucified) and all that took place in the days that followed as His body was pierced and His blood was shed. Some churches do it monthly, others once a quarter; a handful do it every Sunday. On the surface it might not sound like a big deal, but it’s a huge thing in the church as we aim to slow down our minds long enough to try and place ourselves back in that room, back at that table some 2,000 years ago to dwell on Jesus, His crucifixion, and what it all means. ]
Anyways, so we had a board meeting with the elders and deacons of the church the week before this particular communion Sunday and one of the elders asked me point blank ...
“So on Sunday we’re having communion. It’s a holy sacrament in the church. Tell me - what will you do if a gay couple comes to church and wants to take communion? And what will you do if someone who isn’t a ‘professed Christian’ wants to come to take communion? What will you do?”
What will I do?
“I don’t know”, I said, “probably what Jesus would do - give them something to eat?”
Apparently this was the WRONG answer because he then proceeded to tell me exactly what he and the rest of the board EXPECTED me to do - tell them they are NOT welcome at God’s table.
The gay couple would first need to stop being gay.
And the other person would need to “accept Jesus into their heart”and “give their life to Him” ... whatever that means.
In other words, unless they believe like we believe and live like we live and say the magical prayer that we’ve all said, they aren’t welcome at God’s Table.
Now that sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it?
Because all throughout the Gospels we see Jesus kicking the outcasts away from His Table ...
“Sorry man, you can’t have anything to eat because you don’t really believe the right things about Me.”
“So sorry miss, but you’re still dripping in the perfume you used to lure men into your bed last night, get your act together and come back next time.”
“Hey I didn’t hear you say that sinner’s prayer; once you recite it to Me and I come into your heart then you can come back and have something to eat. I’ll save you some.”
I’m being sarcastic, of course - Jesus welcomed EVERYONE to His Table ...
... And never once strong armed anyone into holding certain doctrines, changing their lives, or saying a magical prayer before taking a seat at the place He saved for them.
Regardless of what they believed, how they lived, or what prayers they did or didn’t say, everyone was welcome to His Table - ESPECIALLY the people that the church leaders and church boards said weren’t welcome.
... Everyone, everywhere.
I should say that the bigger issue for this particular board, though, was that they 100% undoubtedly believed that homosexuality and everything that falls within the confines of LGBTQ is a “sin”. And since they believed it to be “sinful”, they saw LGBTQ people as deliberately breaking some sort of God ordained law and therefore saw it as their right to push them away. You can read my thoughts on LGBTQ inclusion HERE and hear more about them HERE (I don’t think homosexuality is a sin, nor do I think any kind of special judgement awaits the LGBTQ community - I think all of that is quite ridiculous), but my point to the elder board was ...
Even IF homosexuality was some kind of special sin (I don’t believe it is).
Even IF not “accepting Jesus into your heart” got you sent to hell (it won’t).
... We have no right to exclude anyone from God’s Table, and I refused to be used as some kind of puppet that would exclude and push people away from God.
So that experience I had at my old church with the elder board sent me on a personal journey of sorts to think about the deeper meanings of communion and what exactly happens when we sit down at God’s Table and take the bread and wine.
Like, what’s the purpose of it?
Because, really, in the Gospels Jesus’ Table was the most inclusive place in all the universe, but in the church it’s become one of the most exclusive places you’ll find anywhere. And since there’s a huge disconnect between what it was then and what it is now, I think it’s important for us to rethink what communion is, how to make it more inclusive, and why it’s such an important part of the church.
So, let’s talk about some of that.
In Mark 14 we’re told that Jesus and His disciples were sharing the Passover meal together in a room somewhere in Jerusalem. Part way through the meal Mark says that Jesus ...
“Took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that Day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
First - He gave them bread, which represented His body.
Second - He gave them wine, which represented His blood.
Never, though, did He say that only certain people were welcome to partake in this sacred meal - only the people who lived in a certain way, only the people who believed certain things, only the people who __________.
I know what some of you are thinking - “but what about the writings of Paul? He flat out told some people that judgement awaited them if they came to the communion table!”
A couple of things.
ONE - we need to stop treating Paul’s letters like they are the writings for mature Christians and the teachings of Jesus like they are the kids stuff.
In other words, we need to stop reading the stories of Jesus though the lens of Paul and flip it - we need to read Paul through the lens of Jesus because then and only then will we come away with an accurate picture of what’s really going on in Paul’s letters.
And TWO - yes, there are verses in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that might be able to be used to build a case that only “followers of Jesus” are welcome to take communion because Paul says that it’s possible to come to the communion table and drink “judgement on yourself”.
BUT, that case completely falls apart when those verses are put into their context.
Real quick, the thing to realize is that he’s not talking about being judged for drinking the wine and eating the bread while having the wrong beliefs about Jesus or living in a way that some church board says is wrong. He’s talking, rather, to the Corinthians who had a habit of coming to the communion Table and getting drunk on the wine, filled up on the bread, and hogging everything so that there wasn’t enough to go around for everyone else.
This, said Paul, can’t happen.
And so he wasn’t reprimanding people for coming to the Table and having the wrong beliefs about Jesus; He was reprimanding the Corinthian Church, rather, for coming to the Table and getting fat and loaded on the elements that were representations of Jesus’ body and blood. When we pull that verse into 2018, though, and forget that context, we end up excluding people at what’s supposed to be the most inclusive place in all the world: God’s Table.
So first Jesus gives them the bread that represents His body and then He gives them the wine that represents His blood.
He takes it.
He blesses it.
And they eat / drink it.
After many months of mulling over this story following the conversation I had with the elder board at my old church, here’s what I came away with: if the crucifixion is the place where Jesus’ body and blood were separated from His body with His blood literally exiting His body by dripping onto the ground below, then communion is the place where His body and blood symbolically come back together again inside of you and me so that ...
His life force.
... Can flow through our veins and empower us to be His representatives and His vessels of inclusion, love, forgiveness, and peace to a hurting world.
Everyone is welcome to partake in such a meal because everyone is made in the image of God and, quite frankly, the world needs everyone to be infused with the kind of love and grace and mercy that Jesus modeled for us throughout His life and on the cross.
So, my friends - come to the Table and eat. Stay tuned for an invite early in 2019 for a virutal time of communion where you can join me via Zoom video chat and we’ll share the bread and wine together.