a seat at his table
It took me years to feel welcome at the communion table. Taking the Lord’s supper holds weighty significance for every believer in the body of Christ, but as one who heavily struggled as a child and teenager over the meaning of salvation, church membership, and the sacraments, I now feel a special tenderness and love for this recurring remembrance feast.
I grew up in churches where membership was held in such a high, careful place that people joining in new membership was almost rare. It often seemed as if I had to possess not only thorough knowledge of doctrine and creeds to be an official part of the church, but that I also had to be 100% convinced of my salvation and be able to explain it in a compelling enough manner to be baptized and let in to the operations and blessings of the church. The thought of even approaching a pastor about membership made me afraid. I would spend the quiet moments during communion, while the plates passed me by, to pray that I would be able to take part, too. The fence around the table seemed too high for me to ever scale.
Beginning in college, I started attending churches in which the government of the church structure as well as its approach towards Christians and families is markedly different. Being a part of these churches as I have transitioned into adult life has helped me see that God’s grace is big, that children should be treated as part of God’s family, and that the waters of baptism and the bread and of the Lord’s supper are indeed for me. I also encountered different perspectives on the sacraments in my theology classes in college, deepening some of my convictions while challenging others. My heart was imprinted with poetic descriptions of moving towards the table even as we tremble, of taking hold of the cup even while our flesh marks its inconsistencies on the glass. One of my favorite preachers came as a special guest as part of a college conference, and spoke on this very thing, tying the Lord’s supper to God’s covenant with Abraham and His gracious condescension to His people in their doubt. Yahweh knew we would need the truth as something to touch, taste, and see (many times over) as we journey on towards the day when faith becomes sight. The Lord’s Supper is God bending low to meet us and feed us, weak as we are.
These ideas have left indelible marks on my heart, helping me to hear God’s tender assuring voice welcoming me to take part. I can come and know with certainty that no matter what happens in between our gathering feasts, He is there and is the same, every time. He is for me, open-armed and ready. He knows me and is not surprised by anything that I have done, by any dark thought that either creeps or darts its way into that sweet place of communion with Christ and His church. And that as certainly as I eat and drink physical bread and wine, so does His word prove true, so does He dwell within me, never to depart.
The somber warnings issued by preachers before the sacrament I now see as good and right. They are not meant to condemn or drive away. They are spoken because there is a holy need for caution and care, because this feast is for the church of Christ, whom He calls to faithfulness. Preachers are right to read these warnings and urge reverence. If a member of their congregation is living in unrepentant sin, there is a place in the process of church discipline that may require suspension from participating in the Lord’s supper. But this should only be for a time, only while unwillingness and rebellion persist, and only for the end of gaining the sinning brother or sister back through the ministry of reconciliation. If there is submission, a returning to God even in its infant stages, there must be a welcome seat at the table.
Paul’s words to the Corinthian church are for us too, and direct us to grace if we look closely: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (I Corinthians 11:27-28)
Jesus speaks “Take, eat and drink. Remember me.” As the church gathers to celebrate this supper until He comes again, may we know the wideness in God’s mercy and may we be his welcoming voice to all who come, saying those words our hearts need in every moment: “The body of Christ was broken for you. The blood of Christ was shed for you.”