In 1998 I came back to the table. Why did I? I heard a communion service with Reverend Greg Dell at Broadway United Methodist Church that changed me deeply. That Spring day when I walked back to the communion table was before Rev. Dell's trial and before all of the national attention on gays in the church. It was just a quiet regular Sunday worship service. I had been asked to sing and that was why I was at church. Or so I thought. Of course, I now know I was at that church on that day to get this invitation to the table. And it caught me so by surprise to hear this man invite me, a lesbian, to the communion table. And to invite all of us by proclaiming our identities, our sexualities, our labels, our uniqueness as welcome there. This month he shares with us this liturgy of communion. If you get a chance, come receive communion and come to the table the first Sunday of any month with Reverend Dell at Broadway United Methodist Church in Lakeview. All are welcome.
Rev. Greg Dell
The Eucharist, Communion, the Lord's Supper. It goes by many names and its interpretation is as varied as the movements and cultures of the Christian faith. But the sacrament of Holy Communion is a ritual that all Christians value and practice to one degree or another. For many, if not most, it is the very center of the Christian worship experience. It involves receiving bread or a wafer and wine or grape juice as a recollection of what the Bible says was an action of Jesus. The Biblical story says that on the night before his crucifixion Jesus was sharing a final meal, very likely a Seder meal, with his followers. The Seder meal was the beginning of Passover, the Jewish commemoration of their liberation from Egyptian slavery at the time of Moses. In the midst of that celebratory meal, Jesus is described as interrupting the proceedings with the institution of the sacrament.
From the earliest times, Christians have remembered that ritual using a variety of liturgies or interpretations. What follows is a contribution to that variety. It is an approximation of The Invitation and Words of Institution that I use and some have found meaningful at Broadway United Methodist Church. But its setting could be any group of Christians celebrating the full inclusion of God's table.
Let's be clear. It is Christ who is host at this table. It is God who provides the elements. When we understand that truth we understand who is to be included at this meal. Any child of God—anyone who has known the power of brokenness and the hope of new life—that person is invited. No church or authority dare deny access to one of God's children. Every expression of the diverse image of God created in humanity—every age, every size, every color, every gender, every sexual orientation is welcome here. You don't qualify because you understand. Who really understands this mystery? You qualify because you choose to respond not because you belong to a particular church or have a particular understanding. Come to the feast!
The Words of Institution
Even from the scriptural accounts, it doesn't seem like Jesus wanted to start a new religious ritual when he first lifted the bread and cup. It's more like he wanted to help his friends understand something about what was going to happen the next day, something about life beyond that next day, something about all of life, and something about God.
He lifted the bread—that normal, most basic of foods—he held it up in order that all those sisters and brothers who had followed him off and on for the three years of his ministry might see. He wanted them to see the beauty of the bread. Bread in its wholeness is beautiful. It is an expression of the harmony of a wonderfully diverse creation coming together like a symphony. It is sunlight and rain, seed and soil, patience, impatience, human sweat and toil, an oven's searing heat, and nature's cooling breezes—all working, playing together. It is a wonder.
And then he broke it. He tore it apart and said, 'This is the way it is, the way it has been, the way it will be. The beauty that God creates is broken. It will be broken on that cross tomorrow but it is broken again and again in your lives and in history. Every injustice, every act of bigotry, every rampaging disease, every famine, every abuse of human life or creation's balance is the brokenness of my body, this loaf, all of the cosmos, again and again.'
And then he said, 'Take and eat.' That's right, eat. Know that you can eat. You can be fed, even when you're broken, even when the world is broken. God sets it up that way. You're not alone, not even there. You don't need to run from the brokenness; you can enter it, you can live even there. Take, receive, eat.
We hold that brokenness, weep over it, rage at it. And even as we do, Jesus lifts the cup. And he says, 'This is the way it can be. This is the cup of the new covenant, a new promise. It is my very life energy—my blood, and it is poured out for you! Why? Because God won't let the brokenness have the last word. The wild intoxicating cup of life has the last word: resurrection not crucifixion. See how, even now—as you dip the jagged edges of that morsel of bread into the cup—the healing begins. The promise surrounds and begins the transformation of the wounds. Take and drink this cup poured out for you and for many for the healing of the brokenness—which is what the forgiveness of sin is really all about.'
The statistical odds aren't with the cup, they're with the brokenness. But be assured, God is with the cup. And every small victory for justice, every new birth of hope against the odds, every healing moment, is a declaration that God won't leave it alone—won't leave us alone—until love and life get the victory.
So, now, come to the banquet!
I hope you find this helpful or at least provocative. In an age and society where Christianity is often a weapon used to oppress and discriminate against folks who are outcast or assigned to the 'margin,' remembering the actions and words of Jesus in their original context may be long overdue!