Please note: this is from the 2003 8 Points version not our current 2011 version.
We will be updating this study guide soon!
By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus’ name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God’s feast for all peoples.
While bread and wine are the central symbols of Christian worship today, the imagery predates even early Christianity. The people of Israel told stories about God feeding them in times of distress – manna for the tribes wandering in the wilderness and an inexhaustible jar of meal for Elijah. After Abraham had won a great battle, the mysterious “Melchizedek king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God most high” (Genesis 14:18). This legendary use of bread and wine in cementing a relationship between two ethnic groups is but one example of a ritual meal pointing to God’s concern for diverse peoples. Another appears among the prophecies of Isaiah:
Note that in this vision of the banquet all the nations, tribes, and clans of the earth are God’s guests. No one is to be excluded.
The vision of God’s banquet in Isaiah, may have inspired the story that is most often told in the gospels – Jesus feeding the multitudes, either four or five thousand at a time. In these stories, Jesus lays down no conditions for participation, establishes no barriers to the meal. At his last supper with his disciples, Jesus invited all twelve to share in the bread and wine, although not one of them had yet developed any faith in him. Of the twelve – one betrayed him, one denied him, and the rest ran away. Following the example of Jesus, we think that all people present should be offered bread and wine whenever the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper. As they share the ritual meal, they participate in the vision of a just world where all people live at peace.
The “banquet” that always begins with the bread and wine has been a symbol of inclusiveness and reconciliation throughout the Jewish and Christian traditions. How ironic it seems that the church for centuries has used communion as the symbol and tool for divisiveness, often creating complicated rules, laws and policies about who can receive the communion elements and who cannot. And yet many of our favorite stories of Jesus’s life are about his open table, his table of fellowship, and the wonderfully strange and unique people with whom we find him “breaking bread” and dining.
It is probably no coincidence that many scholars today believe the stories about Jesus’s open table are considered some of the most authentic historical passages in the gospels, in part because they are so unique for the times. Marcus J. Borg wrote in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, “one of his (Jesus’s) most characteristic activities was an open and inclusive table.” (p.55) Later he notes that, “The inclusive vision incarnated in Jesus’s table fellowship is reflected in the shape of the Jesus movement itself.” (p. 56)
John Dominic Crossan writes that Jesus’s open table fellowship is a core teaching component and symbol of his life. He notes that Jesus’s practice of “open commensality (rules of tabling and eating) is the symbol and embodiment of radical egalitarianism, of an absolute equality of people that denies the validity of any discrimination between them and negates the necessity of any hierarchy among them.” (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p.27, 1994)
Most modern scholars believe that this unique table fellowship was the precursor of what became the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. Borg writes, “…ultimately, the meals of Jesus are the ancestor of the Christian Eucharist.” (p.56)
Progressive Christians then assume that we are following the instructions and the model of Jesus when we practice open communion. We are acting out of a long tradition and a fundamental expression of God’s love, the heart of the original Jesus movement. Of course the real challenge is to continue to live our daily lives with that same attitude of openness, or in Dr. Crossan’s words, with radical egalitarianism, after we leave the safety of our sanctuaries.
2. How can we best express an open table that includes all people in our respective churches?
3. What guidelines or restrictions, if any, do you think there should be regarding those included at your communion table?
4. Who, if anyone, do you believe should be excluded, or who do you wish would be excluded from the Lord’s Supper in your church?