They announce the open table every week; every week the table is open, and all are welcome. I have heard this announcement before. But always there is an asterisk at that end. When we say all what we really mean is everyone who follows our rules. Everyone with our theology. Everyone who won’t cause a ruckus. The table is open on the one side, but the other side is for a very elite club. God made the membership rules, sorry if you don’t like them, here is the body and bread, broken for you to receive only.
I have always loved communion. I can still recite, word for word, what the pastor of my youth recited as he broke the bread, lifted up the cup. In my head, it is still in Andy’s voice, warm and comforting. “in the same manner our Lord took the cup and after blessing it He said, this cup is the covenant of my blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins, take drink in remembrance of me.”
I petitioned to take communion early. You were supposed to wait until you were baptized, or at least until you could understand the significance of the holy meal. I was maybe in the fourth grade. I just wanted in on this thing that was happening. I too wanted to take, eat, in remembrance of Him. After a conversation where I explained myself to an extent that I guess was acceptable, the next time the metal plate came around I took a tiny square wafer, a plastic cup of grape juice.
I now walk to the front once a week, cup my hands as a piece of bread is placed in it, and I dip it into a cup of grape juice. I have learned this is called intinction. I watch every week as the servers first take communion, and then serve it to the rest of the congregation, a reminder of our response to the grace of our God. First you receive it, then you hand it out freely. If you sit in the center, and our pastor knows your name he will use it as he hands you the bread.
If you want to see me cry, serve a child communion. I didn’t know that this was true until I saw a server bend low and look directly into a five-year-old’s eyes. For you, Christs body. The cup-bearer responded in kind, bending low and letting the child carefully dip their piece of bread in the juice. I became completely undone. This girl is five and giggling, and yet she is invited. There is now way she could no, no way she could understand.
It is there that the spirit interrupted my scandalized logic. “And you? You understand? Abby, love, like this child, you are welcome, you are loved. Take. Eat. Not because you are worthy, because you understand, because you are properly contrite in heart, but because you are loved. Because you need fed.”
Juliet got upgraded to the five-year-old classroom. Her birthday is coming up anyway, and the sister’s forever dynamic between my two darlings was disrupting the learning of the three/four class. Five-year-olds come back to the service to take communion. I tried to prep her, sitting her on my lap and asking her to watch as the bread was ripped, and dipped into the cup. I don’t want her to get it wrong.
She takes the bread, she dips it in the juice, she cups her hands underneath the meal and heads to her seat. Juliet sits between her very nervous parents and slowly puts the wetted bread up to her tongue. “Eat it!” we tell her. We are terrified she will declare that the body of Christ is “nasty,” loud enough for everyone to hear. We don’t want her to get this wrong.
“Or you could let her taste and see that the Lord is good.”
And as I watched her taste, and see. As she turned her adult sized portion into a more manageable three bite meal and declared that she liked it, that it was in fact good, I was reminded that the table is always open, you can’t do it wrong, you won’t mess it up.
You are loved. You need fed. The table is open. Come.