House for All Sinners & Saints was only about a year old when I took a Sunday morning phone call from a young parishioner who had gone home to Grand Rapids for a weekend visit.
I could tell right away that Rachel was crying.
“Take your time, baby”
When she finally spoke, it was halting and in a whisper.
“Nadia, I’m at my parent’s church and they’re serving communion and …. (her voice cracks) I’m not allowed to take it.”
Rachel hadn’t thought much about her childhood church’s “closed table” (the term for when a church only allows certain people to take communion) until now. But she had spent a year with HFASS, a community centered around the grace of an unapologetically opentable, and without even noticing it had happened, she had been changed by it. Every Sunday she had seen a woman stand at the altar table (again, she had only ever heard a male voice from the front of the church, never one with a timbre more like her own), and had heard that woman say these words: “We have an open table at House, which means that during communion, everyone without exception is invited to come forward at communion and receive the bread and wine – which for us is the body and blood of Christ. If you choose not to commune, you can come forward with your arms crossed and receive a blessing instead.”
Jesus ate supper with more types of people than I myself would feel comfortable with. Sinners, tax collectors, soldiers, sex workers, fisherfolk, and even lawyers. And his LAST supper was the worst. He broke bread with his friends who were just about to abandon, deny and betray him. And yet, he took bread, blessed it, broke and gave it to these total screw-ups and said “this is my body, given for you, whenever you eat of it, do this in remembrance of me.” He instituted the Eucharist by giving bread and wine to all the people who were just about to totally screw him over.
And then what does the church do in remembrance of him? – try and keep the “wrong people” from receiving the Lord’s Supper.
Some would argue it is reckless to just feed all who hunger. That the Eucharist is too sacred to just hand it over to anyone. But maybe the Eucharist is too sacred to not just hand it over to anyone.
People of good faith disagree on this issue. I know that. There are those in my own tradition who say that only the baptized should receive and that there is a catechumenal path that can be taken for those who wish to commune.
Baptism first, THEN communion.
As if grace only happens in a certain order.
Over the years there have been dozens and dozens of adult baptisms at HFASS – I’d guess more than at most Lutheran churches. But having experienced the unmerited and always available grace of an open table, these folks sought out the grace of the baptismal font.
Before hanging up with Rachel, I assured her she was loved and wanted in our community and then I said, “Would it be ok if I told some folks at church tonight about what happened?” and she said yes.
As a small group of us stayed behind that night to stack chairs and put away paraments, I told them about Rachel’s devastation at having been denied communion at home.
Without skipping a beat, Stuart (the church drag queen) said, “Well then we’ll just have to take her communion at the airport.”
So at 10p on a Wednesday, eight of us showed up to Denver International airport with a cardboard chauffeur’s sign that said “Rachel Pater” on one side, and “Child of God” on the other, and waited for her at the bottom of the escalator. We then made our way up to the interfaith prayer room, I spoke about how on the night Jesus was betrayed he gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom, and then we handed her what had been withheld days before: the body and blood of Christ.
If we are to be judged for having gotten this wrong, let it be that we sat more at the table than fewer.