Open Communion

Posted by Rebecca Irelan on

Open Communion

A. You always say that the communion table is "open" to everyone. Is that a United Methodist tradition or just a Willow Glen one?

B. I was asked this question by someone recently, so I will answer it here.

The open table (not to be confused with our anti-poverty program) is a long tradition that goes back to the Methodist movement led by John Wesley. Wesley encouraged his followers to use all the means of grace to get to know God: personal and communal prayer, searching the scriptures, having spiritual conversations, doing good works, coming together for worship and partaking in Holy Communion. In fact, he tells many stories in his journal of people who first experienced the saving grace of Christ when taking communion. Because he saw so many people whose hearts were warmed and lives were changed at the communion rail, Wesley couldn't deny access to the Lord's Table just because someone didn't belong to the right church or recite the proper creed or espouse the correct theory about communion.

But we don't need Wesley to teach us to be open. All we have to do is look to whom Jesus invited to his table. He was accused of eating with tax collectors and sinners. He fed the 5,000 without regard to what they believed or how they lived. He knowingly shared his last supper, upon which our celebration of communion is based, with men who would betray him and abandon him. How can we do otherwise?

I'm reminded of one early Sunday morning in Marin when I was saying the communion prayer and a man slipped into the church and, through a side door, into the chancel area behind me. He was agitated and interrupted the prayer for calling down the Holy Spirit. I couldn't quite understand his English, but he indicated that he was interested in Jesus. That was enough for me. I invited him to join us in a circle to receive communion and we prayed with and for him. I assured him that Jesus loves him. The man was obviously mentally ill and also intoxicated. I later discovered that he was a Hindu. By the grace of God, Lionel, our head usher for the late service arrived early. He was born in India and could speak Hindi, our visitor's native language. Lionel helped the man get safely back home.

Was the man properly prepared to receive communion that day? I doubt it. Are any of us properly prepared to receive the love of God? I doubt it. But grace happens regardless. Even if the man couldn't see it, the rest of us could. We had extended hospitality to a stranger and had the feeling that Jesus was smiling. At any rate, we all left that day with a blessing.

Yes, our table is open. Always and for everyone. Amen.

Tags: open table, communion