Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Untamed Hospitality | Chapter Two

Elizabeth Newman writes, "Christian hospitality disappears when the distinction between church and world is collapsed" (43).

In worship, one of the times we struggle to clarify this point is in the announcement, either verbal or in the bulletin, on who can come forward to receive communion. Everybody? Those with faith? The baptized? Those who believe in the real presence? Those who are old enough to understand? Those who are of our same denomination?

I think she is correct that extreme inclusivity and a failure to distinguish the church from the world therefore gives up a "place" in which to be hospitable. On the other hand, most of the limits we set also seem inhospitable, at least to some. What if you are the one closed out?

In our church, we tend to say that baptism is the distinguishing mark. Then I get into debates with pastors who want to make communion completely open even to those not baptized. But the truth is, defining this line, who can eat and who cannot, seems in the Christian tradition to be simultaneously perilous and important.

One way forward, which is hard to define in practical terms but is clear at least as a confession of faith, is that the table is Christ's table, and therefore all are welcome who are invited by Christ. The good Fordean Lutheran in me says, "How will they know they are invited if we don't invite them? Let us say, "In Christ's name, I invite you to this meal." We can worry about faith and baptism and understanding later- they will come. For now simply trust that Christ invites you to this meal.


  1. Amen! I attended a very Catholic (2.3hrs) wedding ceremony this summer and was uncomfortable with communion looming on the schedule and no info about what it was going to look like. I took the fearful, faithless approach and took a walk with my daughter who truly did need a break. -- but the timing was quite intentional on my part.

    The possibility of not being invited felt pretty creepy.

  2. As a pastor, i too have struggled with this. I regard the Table as truly Christ's work. My role in this (if any) is to joyfully and inclusively invite all to share in the Lord's Supper. And (no surprise from journeying with beloved Clint on many other issues and discussions...and time at seminary) i have come to a similar place; i too invite all to the Meal as it is Christ's. I figure with the invitation clearly stated as this being the body and blood of Christ Jesus, those who do not regard it as such will choose on their own to not partake.
    Discussions of who "understands" or is "properly prepared" are ultimately fruitless, for we are placing laws on God's wonderful gift to us.