Monday, August 23, 2010

Mystery and the Open Table

An Open Table is extravagant, radical hospitality, and that’s one reason I so love the church I'm serving, because we “get it.” We actually GET that.

I once went on a retreat at the Carmelite monastery over in City to the East. And of course as guests at the monastery we were invited to come to mass, but I was told that since I was not Catholic I couldn’t participate. What I would do, I was told, was go forward with the others, but when it came my turn there to face the priest, I would cross my arms and instead of the bread and wine, I would receive a blessing – a blessing which I have no memory of at all, because by the time I left that place at week’s end, the pain of exclusion was at the forefront of my experience.

I read a little essay by Scott Peck once where he described going on retreat at a convent where the Mother Superior obtained a dispensation for him, so that he could participate in the mass and partake fully of Holy Communion. And the experience of partaking of the body and blood, turned out to be a truly holy experience for him, and contributed a lot to him being baptized and becoming a Christian.

You see, the thing is, we never know what might happen. We can't predict how "the Spirit will blow" in someone else's life. In my view the Table is not our table. We have no right to exclude anyone because it belongs, not to us, but to God. Human beings are so beautifully complex that the ritual of symbols and symbolic action can and do, at times, lead us into something that actually transforms our lives for the better. Personally I don’t believe as Catholics do that the bread and the juice become the actual body and blood of Jesus, and yet . . . can the bread and the juice become doorways through which we pass and are never the same again? Doorways through which we come to know the same power that made Jesus the Christ? Oh yes! That’s the stunning beauty and power of ritual and symbol, and especially, in my experience, of Holy Communion. I've come to believe that the invitation to participate in something with that kind of spiritual potential for good should not be denied to anyone.

Because we never know how the Spirit may be working in that human being's life.

We just never know.



Mompriest said...

That's why I always say, in TEC all people are welcome to receive the bread and the wine. IF YOU prefer you can receive a blessing instead, but it's YOUR choice. Regardless, please come forward. I only have to say this at weddings and funerals, otherwise it's clear in the worship booklets that all are welcome.

It's sad isn't it, the exclusivity. I too would have felt just as sad and left out...but love the Peck story.

Mompriest said...

Although not quoting you exactly I am making reference to your reflection in my sermon for Sunday, the portion about feeling sad at the exclusion from Eucharist. It's part of a longer reflection on hospitality and humility and includes some of what I wrote for the Words Matter conversation. I hope that's ok? I'll post it later and you can let me know.

Mary Beth said...

Unlike Teri, my TEC parish indicates in worship bulletin, "we do not practice a closed communion...if you have been baptized with water and are a communicant in your own church you are welcome." Well, that's not the same. It hurts me very, very much.

Katherine E. said...

Sorry I didn't get back to you soon enough, Mompriest. Hope you knew that it would be perfectly Wonderful for you to reference the reflection!