Last week our presbytery debated and voted on a controversial issue. I thought our conversations were helpful and informative, and we once again demonstrated that Presbyterians can talk about things on which we disagree without dividing.
In the midst of this positive day, however, it came to my attention that there was a minister in our presbytery, along with the elder commissioner from his congregation, who refused to take Communion. According to those who are in the know, he refuses to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the common Table because he perceives many of us who do not agree with him to be outside the faith. He does not share Communion with us because he believes we are not in Communion with Christ.
I say “us” because I am quite sure I fall in the camp of those with whom he disagrees. In fact, it is possible that if we apply the standards he seems to set across the board, his time of Communion might be lonely indeed. For who among us comes to the Table of the Lord in perfect unity of agreement with the sisters and brothers who approach the Table alongside us? Who among us comes to the Table of the Lord free from sin? It seems to me that this minister has taken the very sign of God’s grace in our midst and put a fence around it, turning it into a test of righteousness.
I will often say these words to invite persons to the Table, taken from the Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church:
“Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God!
They will come from east and west,
and from north and south,
to sit at table in the kingdom of God.
According to Luke,
when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples,
he took the bread, and blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened
and they recognized him.
This is the Lord’s table.
Our Savior invites those who trust him
to share the feast which he has prepared.”
Notice what this invitation does not say. It does not say, “Our Savior invites those who are righteous,” or “holy” or “theologically correct” or “politically correct” or “liberal” or “conservative” or any of the other ways we divide ourselves both in the culture and in the church. All that is required is that we trust in Christ. I make a point of saying that this is not a Presbyterian table, or this congregation’s table, but it is the Lord’s Table, open to all who trust in Christ, all who are baptized in his name, whether young or old, no matter your denomination.
The Table of the Lord is a place of grace where we are met by the risen Lord, and where, if we see clearly at all, it is only because he, in grace, has opened our eyes. It seems to me that the only prerequisite for coming to the Table is an acknowledgment of our own blindness. Jesus, when the Pharisees said, “Surely we are not blind are we?” responded, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:40-41).
The minister sat on his hands during Communion because he thought he saw so much more clearly than the rest of us, and he led his elder commissioner to do the same. Their sin remains. But the good news for them is that grace abounds, and one of the places it can be found is at the Table of the Lord, where they can be joined by fellow sinners, feeding on mercy broken like bread, drinking from the cup of our common salvation, sharing the peace which only Christ can give. It is an invitation to all sinners, and one I hope they will accept.