"Red: Week One" - Daily Reflection for Monday, October 5th
I visited one of those so-called "mega churches" once on a day that they happened to be celebrating Holy Communion. There was easily 5,000-6,000 people in attendance that morning.
It's almost impossible to serve thousands of people Holy Communion in under ten minutes--unless you do something altogether radical, which is what they did. A basket of sorts was passed down the aisle filled with little plastic containers that were sealed with a "pull-away" top. Under the pull-away top on one side of the container was a piece of cracker. Under the other was a small portion of grape juice.
This is what it looked like:
It was like being served Holy Communion on an airline. I remember just staring at it for a moment before opening it up. The thought occurred to me then that there was something incredibly wrong about the whole process, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It just felt wonky.
But the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize why we got to this place in thousands of churches across America.
A hundred years ago, give or take, many congregations within the Presbyterian Church only celebrated Holy Communion once a year. In preparation for the annual partaking of the sacrament, Elders would actually visit each church member in their homes. They would "examine" each church member by asking question, inspecting the orderliness, or lack thereof, of their house and then, when they deemed them fit, they would issue the church member a token. This token could then be redeemed on the Sunday of Holy Communion.
No token. No Communion.
Because I am not a confirmed Catholic, I cannot receive Holy Communion as part of the celebration of the Mass--if the presiding priest is aware that I am not confirmed. I can come forward and receive a blessing, but I am excluded from the sacrament.
In many very conservative churches, you cannot partake of Holy Communion unless you have been received into membership of their particular congregation.
When you start breaking down how Christians over the years have made access to the Lord's Table a matter of power and control, you start to see why there is a reaction against such exclusion. It's no wonder that we've reached the point where we're peeling off the tops of pre-filled communion cups, taking the elements into our own hands (receiving them essentially from no one in particular) and turning what should be a community celebration into a solitary, individualistic exercise.
Each time I stand over the elements of Holy Communion at our church I affirm my belief in the openness of the Lord's Table. I say the following:
"We practice open communion at our church. This is not the Presbyterian Table, it is not my table, it is the LORD'S table and it is he who invites, so all those who put their faith in Jesus--wherever you are in that journey, even if today was the first day you took a step to follow him--you are welcome."I suppose that I may be violating some dusty old rule somewhere by saying these particular words, but I also suppose I don't care all that much. The message of the Lord's Supper is one of inclusion, of welcome, of communion at a common table for a common meal that reminds us we are all broken and poured out and in need of a Savior.
And the invitation to be filled, to be made whole--that is an invitation for everyone from Jesus himself, and there's no confirmation, token or church membership required to accept it.