“This is the Lord’s Table. It’s not a United Methodist table, nor is it Green Meadow’s table. You need not be a member of this church, nor any church for that matter, to celebrate Holy Communion with this community of faith”
These words from the bulletin of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa, Tennessee are found just underneath the heading of “Invitation to the Table of Holy Communion” and above the Prayer of Confession. The placing of these words is theologically significant. The altar in front of the congregation on which are placed a cross and candles and sits behind the smaller altar on which sits the elements of bread and wine for Communion is confessed by the church to belong to some one else.
Look again at the words. “This is the Lord’s Table.” What is not said is that the table does not belong to the church. Indeed it does. But, it belongs to the church only insofar as it belongs to Jesus Christ as the head of the Church. When the congregation of the church approaches the Lord’s table, we are being invited to share in the consecrated meal that is taken from the offerings of the church and given back with the blessing of Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
This is why the practice of “Open Communion” is important in most Protestant fellowships. Our practice of Holy Communion differs from that of the more traditional Roman Catholic and Orthodox communities because we have determined that we are not protectors of the holy mysteries.
The United Methodist Church does not baptize people to make them United Methodists or to unite them to a particular congregation. Baptism – the sacrament of initiation – is the act that unites a person to the Church Universal. There is no boundary surrounding the font or baptistery. There is no outward boundary the determines where the Church Universal begins or ends for that matter. In the same way, there is no boundary made around the Table of the Lord.
Human beings often need boundaries and defined limits. It is common for us to want to make them. St. Paul warned the early believers in Corinth that they were making boundaries not around the Table of the Lord but within it. The ancient practice of Holy Communion included a meal called the Love Feast which would be much like any time a community meal or “covered dish dinner” was held in a church today. St. Paul was concerned about two important matters.
The first was that the brothers and sisters in the community of saints were making distinctions based on how the world viewed people. Status was being brought into the meal. Sharing the meal was not being observed. Some ate very well. Some got very little. The Church was for all practical matters a mirror image of the world at large. To the mind of St. Paul there was only one word to describe that practice. The practice was demonic.
You may search all of eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. You will not find that word. However, you will find it in the tenth chapter. Previous to the instructions St. Paul gives regarding what the community of believers fails to do together, he talks about what they may be doing in the world when they were not together. There is a possibility that the believers were eating sacrificed food. That is to say food that was sacrificed in the religious rites of the temples of the various recognized gods of the Empire. St. Paul identifies these rites as demonic. An interesting discussion can be made as to exactly what he means here by the word translated as “demons.” For the purposes of this writing though it is sufficient to say that these entities and practices are in opposition to God. When he picks up the discussion again about drawing boundaries among believers in Holy Communion, he refuses to commend the believers who act in this way as he condemns those who acted arrogantly in the tenth chapter.
The practice of Open Communion, the Open Table of the Lord, is in keeping with St. Paul’s vision of the kingdom of God. No one may be kept away by anything except his or her own conscience. It is as glorious as the declaration of the Resurrection and the Advent to declare in practice that all are welcomed by Christ in the sacraments of the church.