Converting Power of Holy Communion
For most of Christian history the Lord's Table has been fenced. You have to be on an approved list to gather at the Table, because this is holy food. I don't think this is how it was at the beginning. There are words of guidance about how to behave at the Table, but I've never found hoops to jump through before you can commune. I have a high view of the Eucharist. I believe that we meet Jesus at the Table. But, I've come to believe that the Table should be open to all. Thus, one needn't be baptized first. One needn't be confirmed first. But, I also believe that as we gather at the Table, the Table has a converting power that can transform our lives if we allow that to occur.
I recently finished Sara Miles' book Take This Bread, which shares the story of one person's experience of conversion at the Lord's Table. It is a rather amazing story of how the open table at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco opened up the heart and life of a person who to that point had considered herself an atheist. In fact, she had been raised by missionary children to be just that. Miles doesn't offer us a fully developed theology of the open table, but I found that her autobiographical reflections stir the imagination.
She writes of her conversion:
Holy communion knocked me upside down and forced me to deal with the impossible reality of God. Then, as conversion continued, relentlessly challenging my assumptions about religion and politics and meaning, God forced me to deal with all kinds of other people. In large ways and small, I wrestled with Christianity: its grand promises and its petty demands, its temptations and hypocrisies and promises, its ugly history and often insufferable adherents. Faith for me didn't provide a set of easy answers or certainties: It raised more questions than I was ever comfortable with. The bits of my past— family, work, war, love— came apart as I stumbled into church, then reassembled, through the works communion inspired me to do, into a new life centered on feeding strangers: food and bodies, transformed. I wound up not in what church people like to call “a community of believers”— which tends to be code for “a like-minded club”— but in something huger and wilder than I had ever expected: the suffering, fractious, and unboundaried body of Christ. [Miles, Sara (2008-11-19). Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (p. 2). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
It is unlikely that a bounded table will knock anyone upside down. Yet, that is her story. How might unfencing the Table lead to renewal and even revolution in the church? Of course, for some that might mean celebrating more frequently. For others who do hold frequent services, it may require a rethinking of what it is we do at the Table! Oh, and we don't simply open the Table to everyone because we want to be nice. We do so because we believe that encounters with God can occur when people are allowed to gather at the Table.