Every Monday thru Thursday at noon, Union Theological Seminary holds a chapel service – they vary wildly, with many different speakers, themes, styles, music. Thursdays always incorporate communion, however, although the flavor and presentation changes each week.
The first communion chapel I attended two weeks ago was uncomfortable for me. As I have talked about a bit here and with others, I’ve been thinking more deeply the role Jesus might play in my life and in my theology. I have grown to appreciate the model, lessons, and hope that Jesus offers… but am still quite far from calling myself a Christian, as there are some seemingly important tenets of the faith that I cannot reconcile (and which I won’t go into at this time). Suffice it to say, however, I have grown to deeply respect a true Christian faith as modeled by Carl, and many of the friends I have made on Twitter and at Union. Thus, I feel strongly about my participation in some of the sacraments – or, I should say, refusal to particpate – particularly when it comes to Communion. In my mind, it is a sacrament shared by people who believe in Jesus Christ as savior and son of God; it is precious, meaningful, an important and sacred act of the faithful. Because I do not believe those things, I don’t believe I should take part – I haven’t taken part in a Christian Communion in almost 30 years – and I respect the sacrament too much to denigrate it by my half-hearted, unbelieving participation.
So the communion chapel two weeks ago was uncomfortable, because it was clearly a sacrament for Christian believers. I understood the message – and it was not for me. It’s hard to separate being excluded from excluding myself, but it was clear that this was not a ritual for me. I decided that I would probably skip most Thursday chapels as a result.
Fast forward two weeks to this past Thursday. I went to chapel despite there being communion, because one of my professors, David Carr, was giving the message. I figured that when we got to that part of the service I’d slip out, so I sat near an aisle. Professor Carr’s message was centered around the story in Matthew about the vineyard owner who pays everyone the same wage, whether they worked 11 hours or just 1. His message was about abundance, particularly in response to the latest charges against President Obama about ‘class warfare’ when he suggests that the wealthy pay their fair share. Carr spoke of Jesus’s message in that parable, that a society is healthy when all have food, and clothing, and shelter, and even an hour’s worth of meaningful work.
A good message… a healing one… but it was in the prayer that followed that God spoke to me (I am sorry to say I don’t know who wrote it):
God of abounding, lavishing, unfair grace,
At times, your generosity challenges us, overwhelms us, and even offends us. We ask that in this moment, you would push us to love one another more deeply. We also ask that you grant us grace for ourselves in those times that we fail to love one another well. As we approach your table, where all are welcomed and none go hungry, we are reminded that there are still many situations – in our own community and in the world – in which your abundance does not seem so apparent. We now pause to offer up prayers for people and places where more of your bountiful unfairness is needed.
God of abundance, teach us how to live with open hands and open hearts, that we may tear down the barriers that divide us and contribute to the healing of the world. As we come to your table, we ask that you continue to challenge us with your unrestrained love and meet us in all of our needs. In your name we pray.
By the time the prayer ended, I was sobbing. After the prayer, we sang Daniel Schutte’s “Table of Plenty”:
Come to the feast of heaven and earth!
Come to the table of plenty!
God will provide for all that we need,
here is the table of plenty.
O come and sit at my table
where saints and sinners are friends
I wait to welcome the lost and lonely
to share the cup of my love.
Another of my professors, Paul Knitter, presided over the Communion, and while he used many of the familiar words of the sacrament, he repeated the sentiment that this was an invitation to share of God’s abundance, to sit at God’s table. All are worthy – whether they believe or not, whether they work all day or just an hour. All comers… all hearts welcome.
God opened up the table to me, who feels unworthy and unwelcome, excluded and apart from. Me. God invited me to sit at the table.
And I could not refuse.
Still sobbing, I made my way to receive the morsel of homemade bread dipped in wine and the blessing Professor Knitter offered. I sobbed through the final song, “The Peace of the Earth Be with You”… I sobbed in the bathroom after the service ended.
It has taken me until today to begin understanding what happened – and I’m still not quite sure, but I DO know that for all my feeling “outside’ – especially in a most decidedly Christian seminary, and with a most decidedly Christian boyfriend – God said “you’re welcome too.” God doesn’t seem to care that I have doubts. God doesn’t seem to care that I’m still quite angry. God doesn’t seem to care that I feel unworthy. God has a place for me at the table. How can I refuse?