As I continue to reflect on the open table, and Jesus' practice, I want to turn from my conversation with Dennis Smith's book From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World,which is a scholarly examination of the origins of the Eucharist to a more "popular" reflection. So, for this reflection I want to turn to Nora Gallagher's book The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series. Nora writes not as a professional theologian but as a lay Christian -- she is, to my knowledge, still a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara -- a church I know well.
In the book Nora offers her position on the Open Table, noting that "if you make up a bunch of rules about who gets to take Communion and who doesn't, then Communion is reduced either to a special club with only certain kinds of people who are allowed in, or magic: "If I have confessed my sins, the something wonderful will happen. If I have not, then it won't."(The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series, p. 90).
She continues a few pages later:
You are welcome at this table. The altar is the big table. This is the table that wants everyone there: poor and rich, women and men, children and older people, the mentally disabled and depressed, the homeless, the sane, the happy and the sad, the straight and the gay and the in-between. Thieves are welcome here, and embezzlers; so are murderers and prostitutes and sex abusers and those whom have been or are abused. Those who have had abortions are welcome here as well as those who have not. Drinking alcoholics, and those who've joined AA or have quite. Everyone. Just like the tax collectors and the blind man and the leper who followed Jesus . The gospel story that makes the most sense tome about the Eucharist is the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus didn't ask those thousands of people camped on that hillside whether they had confessed their sins or how clean they were. He fed them. (The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series, p. 92).
Now, the end result of coming to the Table could be transformation, for we all need to have transforming encounters with God, but that's not in our control. As I think about the Open Table I'm mindful of the idea that the Table is a converting ordinance.
Lest someone think that I don't take the Eucharist seriously, I need to state up front that I do take it very seriously. I believe that it is central to the life of the Christian community. I believe in frequent communion. Yes, I believe that the Eucharist is a sacred event in the life of the church, but I also believe that it is a sacrament of grace that Jesus the host shares with all who will come, wherever they may come from. As Nora puts it: "Holy Communion is an act of the imagination" (p. 94). I think too often we lack imagination, whether we offer an open or a restricted table. So, may we let our imaginations go free so that we can engage the meal in a way that honors God and proves to be transformative for all who gather around it.