Monday, September 07, 2009

An Open Table -- a Theology of the Eucharist

The church has struggle with what to do with its central rite -- the Celebration of the Lord's Table. Should it be a meal of the elect? Of the believers? Of the Baptized? Of the Holy? Of all who would come?

And how should we celebrate it? With solemnity? Or with Joy?

I appreciated, and am in agreement with, a word on the Table given by Jurgen Moltmann in his autobiography A Broad Place (Fortress, 2008), which I've been reading as I prepare for the Moltmann Conversation later this week.

Moltmann reflects on two experiences on a speaking tour in Great Britain that transformed his understanding of the table. First he had shared in a most unusual setting, a group of Christians (Protestant and Catholic) who had been sharing in an anti-Vietnam War rally, shared in the table of the Lord, joyously celebrating the feast on the floor in the offices of Sheed and Ward (a Catholic Publisher). He writes: "Bread and wine passed from hand to hand in a small circle, and we felt the bodily presence of Jesus among us." Later he wound share in the Eucharist at St. Giles Church in Edinburgh -- with those who had stayed behind after his sermon, scattered about the church. He notes that he felt no sense of community and left the church feeling depressed. Thus, his discovery of the meaning and purpose of the Sacraments.

Where does Jesus' feast belong? On the streets of the poor who follow Jesus, or in the church of the baptized, the confirmed and established? I decided for the feast that is open to all, and to which the weary and heavy-laden are invited. Baptism, on the other hand, should be reserved for believers. That certainly contradicts the practice of our mainline churches, but it is in conformity with Jesus according to the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus' Supper is not a church meal for people who belong to one's own denomination. It is the feast of the crucified Christ, whose hands are stretched out to everyone. In my view the Roman Catholic and Orthodox restrictions are un-Christian. In the worship of every denomination, I go to the Supper of Jesus whenever I hear his inviting voice, and I have never and nowhere been turned away. The Eucharist is in Jesus' literal sense "catholic," that is to say all-embracing, exclusive of no one but inclusive of all. (A Broad Place, p. 164)

Moltmann, like Barth came to believe that baptism is a sacrament of the believer, and should be shared with those who express belief. Part of Moltmann's reasoning has a European context -- baptism is equivalent to citizenship. He believes that for the sake of the gospel that linkage should be broken.

But the point of the hour is the openness of the table --Jesus reaches out to all and invites all to the table -- that's what it means to be truly catholic.


Anonymous said...

I fear I may miss the point of the post, so to clarify. Is the issue around denominations like Catholics that say you must be a part of their group to take the supper, or are you saying unbelievers should take the supper? My take away from the quote you used was that all BELIEVERS should be welcome to the table and I fully agree. There has been past mention of unbelievers and that I have serious reservations about due to scripture, etc.

Thanks for the help.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Moltmann would, I believe, affirm the principle of an open table. That is, there is no barriers to the table at all. Even as Jesus welcomed everyone to the table, so should we! It is, after all, the "Lord's Table" not the Disciples Table or the Presby's or the Catholics, etc.

Catholics have one of the most restrictive, but so do many Protestant churches.

For myself, I welcome all who would come, barring no one.

Anonymous said...

Would you encourage an unbeliever? That would be the rub for me.. simply based on the scripture below. Also thinking that Jesus purposely pulled the 12 away to an upper room to have the supper and not say when he fed the 5,000.


Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


I take that text as speaking to the relationship of the community. In context Paul was dealing with a full meal, in which some where eating and drinking to their hearts content while others went hungry.

I do not take Paul here as suggesting that we discern the body in the bread and cup.

I also believe that Jesus' table fellowship should be our primary guide in how we celebrate the supper.

Anonymous said...

If they don't do it in spite as some sort of protest performance. I guess that would be the most profound way to take his father's name (body) in vain.

I have an adult mentally handicapped son. I can't say how much he believes, but he's taken the bread and cup with more joy, every time than you can imagine.

I think Jesus welcomes him.

Hey, he turned 21 today! He'll keep with the grape juice. David Mc

Anonymous said...

Anyway Chuck,

I was thinking back to where I felt like I had a box (specific church) on my head. I would have said my biblical faith was 98%.

I now feel like I can breath, and my faith has expanded. But Biblical faith is now only ~49%.

On a scale from .01 - 10.0 what amount of faith is required to sit and share? Who should decide and how to act? People want to know. David Mc

Anonymous said...

I rrad the passages as very wise for each of us. We can't stop people from sinning by making rules though. They're always made to be broken. David Mc

John said...

I have an abiding belief in the Presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist. When I think about who should partake in the Eucharist I have a very expansive understanding - and a very unorthodox one.

Jewish purity laws operated from the premise that whatever is impure and unholy will contaminate the pure and holy. Implicit in this understanding is the notion that God is weak and God's person and Gd's holy spaces are easily defiled. This the obsessive preoccupation with who and what is clean and wen and how to recover purity after defilement.

I think that the early Church and specially Paul operated wihin this context - notwihstanding the teachings of Jesus, they continued to accept basic Jewish notions of purity and defilement.

I contrast, I understand that God is powerful beyond testing. I do not believe that God can be contaminated or defiled, nor can that which God claims as God's own be defiled or contaminated. Instead, it is God who is likely to positively contaminate the impure and unholy; that is, when the impure and unholy come into contact with God the impure and unholy are rendered pure and holy, they are transformed from what they were into what God wills them to be - not the other way around.

So I would invite ALL to the table, in the genuine hope that God, operating directly on the participant through His Real Presence, can have the maximum opportunity to effect a transformative conversion.

I acknowledge that I am being very idealistic, but my idealism is premised on my belief in the irresistible power of God and rejects entirely any notion that humans, or evil working through humans, can seriously pervert the will and the work of God.


John Sullivan said...

An "Open Table"... speaks of radical and generous hospitality... so that as we celebrate the Lord's death we recognize that his death was for all... so we welcome those who need it (including ourselves)and say... here is Jesus, who died for you... who heals you...etc... That is thrilling! It is not saying... we accept you... you are perfect the way you are. In fact I would say that as we partiake we are challenged to change. We recieve grace... and through grace are transformed. In our liturgies there are examples of this kind of language.
This comes from the Book of Common Prayer used by the Episcopal Church:
Eucharistic Prayer C:
Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our
eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver
us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace
only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for
renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one
body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the
world in his name.

Anonymous said...

John S,

That brought a tear to my eye- starting with "celebrate the Lord's death". David Mc