Today, we celebrate World Communion Sunday, a day where we remember the millions of Christians around the world who gather in churches and homes and under trees to celebrate Holy Communion. These days the gathering may look different, some in person, some outside, some in their homes, most socially distanced, yet for all of us, the celebration of Holy Communion is a central sacrament in our faith. As United Methodists we believe that all are invited to this feast, that all are welcome to come and partake in this gift from God’s table, this gift of bread and juice symbolizing the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A table that is big enough for any who wish to come, not a table with limitations and tests of worthiness to pass, but one where anyone who longs to be in relationship with Christ can come and partake and be welcomed fully, no matter what.
This, in itself is a miracle!
When I was a child, I attended church with my grandparents. The rest of my family rarely went, but I liked going, and I liked singing in the children’s choir. Communion Sunday was always a little stressful though. My grandmother would always put the Sunday roast in the oven before they left for church, with the hope that it would be ready when they got home. But on Communion Sunday’s she was always anxious as the service would run 10 or 15 minutes longer, and she sat there, concerned that her roast might be dried out or burnt. And my grandfather was anxious for other reasons, although I didn’t know this until much later. When I was an adult I visited and went to church with them. I hadn’t known as a child that Communion was for members only…. We didn’t get to receive it as kids. But this happened to be a Communion Sunday, and when the bread and juice were passed along the pews, my grandfather leaned over to me and said with a look on his face that was like a kid who had gotten away with something cheeky, “It’s ok if you take it…. They don’t know this, but I’m not a member and I take it every month!” For the last 55 years, since he had been married to my grandmother, he had been receiving Communion when, according to the church, he should have been denied it…. And he was tickled pink that he had managed to get away with it for so long.
In this denomination and in this church, we celebrate an open table. As United Methodists, when we declare this is God’s table and ALL are invited, it truly is a gift, maybe even a miracle!
But, more than this, I believe the real miracle is in the words Jesus used as he broke bread for the last time that night long ago. The night when he knew he was about to be betrayed, to be denied, to be killed. The night when he left this gift from the Seder dinner where he broke the bread in a way that we now know as the Last Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist. For on that night he invited all those at the table with him to eat and drink… listen again to these words from the Gospel of Matthew:
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Do you hear it? Do you hear that miraculous invitation? Drink from it…. ALL OF YOU.
Jesus knew that Judas, the one who would betray him with a kiss was part of this ‘all’. Jesus knew that Peter, the one who would deny he was one of Jesus’ followers was part of this ‘all’. Jesus knew that the other disciples who would huddle and hide, scared for their own lives were part of this ‘all’. Jesus knew that all those gathered in their many vast and deep ways of being broken were part of this ‘all’. And still, he said, ALL OF YOU.
As I sat with these words in prayer again this week, I was reminded of a poem by Warsan Shire, a poet who is a Somali refugee living in England. She wrote:
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
Where does it hurt? Jesus might have asked that very same question that last supper. Where does it hurt? For those disciples were hurting as Jesus shared the bread and cup with them. Jesus, himself, was hurting, as we see when he heads to the Garden of Gethsemane later that evening. His mother was hurting as she imagined the next few hours for her son. Where does it hurt? And in response, Jesus looks at those gathered and says, Yes… it hurts. Here is my body broken for you. I’m not going to deny the hurt, the brokenness, the pain. It hurts….. it hurts everywhere. AND, here is my body, broken for you. It hurts everywhere, and here is the cup of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of their sins.
There is a real beauty in this acknowledgement of the hurting of individuals, of the pain of the world. The way that Jesus is able to look at the hurt, the pain, the brokenness with compassion and know it’s not the end of the story. The way he sees the hurt and still offers up himself to all… even the ones who will later hurt him directly. It’s a promise for both the nowness of the pain, the ways he promises to see, to acknowledge and not turn away, to walk with us, to stay with us in the midst of all the horror that is taking place. And it’s a promise for the future. Take this bread, all of you, take this cup, all of you. A new covenant is being worked out, even as we sit in this present time of destruction, abuses of power, fear and hate… something new is being prepared. So eat, drink. I see what is happening. I see what the future holds. Don’t loose hope. All of us are hurting somewhere. Don’t loose hope.
There was another poem that came to mind when I sat with the beauty of this, the beauty that, even in our brokenness, our humanness, our hurt, we are welcome to the table. This one is by Andrew King:
THE TABLE WITH NO EDGES
We will sit down where feet tire from the journey.
We will sit down where grief bends the back.
We will sit down under roofs wrecked by artillery.
We will sit down where cries sound from cracked walls.
We will sit down where heat beats like hammers.
We will sit down where flesh shivers in cold.
We will sit down where bread bakes on thin charcoal.
We will sit down where there is no grain in baked fields.
We will sit down with those who dwell in ashes.
We will sit down in shadow and in light.
We will sit down, making friends out of strangers.
We will sit down, our cup filled with new wine.
We will sit down and let love flow like language.
We will sit down where speech needs no words.
We will sit together at the table with no edges.
We will sit to share one loaf, in Christ’s name, in one world.
We will sit down…. It doesn’t matter where we have come from, what shame fills our lives, what brokenness or grief we carry, what we may have done or left undone, what hurts we have inflicted or absorbed. We will sit down…. However we are dressed, whatever language we speak, whatever color our skin, whatever preferences we have for love, whatever our income is, wherever we live. We will sit down…. It doesn’t matter what we did on the way to get here…. In many ways it doesn’t matter what we do 30 minutes from now, for remember Judas. When we sit down, when we come hungry for a relationship with the Divine, when we show up at the table ready to be seen by God, ready to be welcomed into this place of grace and mercy. When we sit down at this table with no edges it receives all of our rough and broken edges. When we sit down, then Jesus will say to us, Take this bread, all of you, take this cup, all of you. All of you. Each one AND all of you…. The hurting and grieving parts, the shame-filled parts, the parts that you may think are beyond repair, the parts that are shiny and that you want the world the see, the parts that you hide from everyone you meet… and even from yourself. Take this bread, all of you, take this cup, all of you. ALL of you.
For when we show up at the table we are welcome, when we come to God’s table, all of us is rejoiced! The mere act of showing up is all that is required of us, God will take care of everything else. And the beautiful thing is that when we show up, time after time, the grace and mercy and love that drips into us through this bread and cup, through this act of welcome, through our willingness to come and be met by God’s love, through all of this God’s love and healing and grace begins to change us, to smooth out the rough places, to heal the broken places, to comfort the grieving places, to open our hearts to receiving even more of the love and grace that flow so freely. It’s like a gentle mother kissing an owie of a small child… the pain is lessened and the child is reassured that the parent is there for them. Each time we come, we are kissed by God’s love. And reassured once more… no matter what we have done in between the times of sitting at the table. We show back up. We are received each and every time with Love.
So come, ALL of you.