Eucharistic Presence and the Face of Christ
I have been from time to time reflecting on what it means for the church to worship at an open table. By open table, I mean a table where all are welcome, whether Christian or not, baptized or not. In my mind this stands in continuity with Jesus' own table fellowship. While the Eucharist looks back to the Last Supper for its inspiration/institution, I don't believe that this experience of the Table is the only experience to inform our present practice of Table Fellowship.
As part of my exploration of the topic, which connects with a grant proposal we're working on as a congregation, I've been reading as widely as possible on the topic. Among the books I've been reading is Claudio Carvalhaes' Eucharist and Globalization. Carvalhaes is Brazilian and Presbyterian. The book is a scholarly one, but is insightful for my exploration.
One of the key issues that we wrestle with in discussing the Eucharist is the matter of presence. In what way is Christ present in or at the meal. For those who affirm transubstantiation Christ is present in the emblems. Lutherans affirm Christ's presence with the elements though not a change in substance. Some believe there is no presence. Still others posit a spiritual presence, perhaps in the community. Carvalhaes, in reflecting on Presbyterian attempts to take down fences around the Table, speaks of seeing the face of Christ in the people gathered, including every guest. Note what he says about the connection of Table fellowship and mission:
When the Christian churches shrink the eucharistic meal to a morsel of bread and a sip of wine, the church turns what was supposed to be an experience of plenty into a feast of scarcity, and it loses many connections with the outside such as the world’s hunger, and runs the risk of turning a table that was created for others into a celebration of an inner club. If the church is to follow a radical ministry of hospitality mentioned in the Companion to the Book of Common Worship, its gestures and movements should reflect openness and food for all. “In the words of St. Benedict, ‘Let all guests be received as Christ.’ Our meeting with Christ at the Table must be an exercise of ‘hosting people unable to host us in return’ (see Luke 14: 12– 14) and, therefore, seeing the face of Christ.” 237 If we were to see the face of Christ in every guest, we would never deny food to anybody who approached the table. Moreover, we would take the food to the streets to feed the hungry. [Carvalhaes, Cláudio (2013-10-29). Eucharist and Globalization: Redrawing the Borders of Eucharistic Hospitality (pp. 124-125). Pickwick Publications - An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.]
Consider what he has suggested. How can we turn away from the Table one who bears the face of Christ. From that radical hospitality reaches out into the community -- to the hungry.
Who is welcome? Who has the right to put up fences? Of course perhaps there are times and places for boundaries, but are our boundaries typically drawn too narrowly?