Open Communion

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I’m reading an excellent book entitled Take This Bread by Sara Miles. A self-proclaimed left-winger, skeptic, and lesbian, Miles describes how a communion service at a California Episcopal church changed her life and inspired her to feed the hungry.

Conservatives might not like her approach, but I love how she addresses the ugliness that many people associate with Christianity, and dares to ask the question, why would any thinking person become a Christian? It’s a thoughtful book, and Miles manages to be both critical and compassionate throughout.

In a particularly poignant passage, Miles describes how the traditions surrounding The Lord’s Supper have changed through the years, often departing dramatically from the original event.  What began as a feast was downsized to tiny wafers and sips of grape juice. What started as Jesus gatherings with sinners, (as he was so often criticized for doing), became a rite reserved exclusively for insiders.  

“The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist,” she writes. “A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death.”  (p. 76)

[She notes that each denomination has its own rules and restrictions regarding communion.]

Miles goes on to devote her life to feeding people—regardless of their religious affiliation—in the spirit of communion. She meets with some criticism, but is generally supported by her particular church, which had always practiced open communion.

Now, I’ve never been to a church service—evangelical, Protestant, Episcopal, or otherwise—that didn’t stipulate certain requirements for participating in communion.  And until now, I never thought to question that.

But come to think of it, it makes perfect sense to invite all to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Miles quotes her priest as saying:

“Jesus abandoned baptizing and instead sought out, welcomed, and dined with unprepared, unreformed, un-washed sinners. His action was a prophetic sign suiting his own more radical message: here comes God now, ready or not! And seen against Jesus’ contemporary religious background, the presence of obviously unqualified diners was essential to his sign. Perhaps Isaiah’s vision of a banquet for all nations inspired his choice: there, the prophet says, pre and impure will share one feast. Nevertheless such dinner company was politically scandalous for a teacher…How can we tell people today what we believe about Christ, and yet keep his table fellowship in a way he distinctly refused to keep it?”

What do you think? Should more churches offer open communion? Should yours?

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