The official position of the Episcopal Church is that only baptized Christians should be invited to receive Holy Communion. If you’re put off by this kind of exclusion let me remind you that it’s still a pretty generous invitation. After all, in the Roman Catholic Church only Roman Catholics are invited to communion.
Even so, an old church friend of mine wasn’t having it this week when I tried to explain.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke say Jesus shared his last meal with the twelve apostles, his inner circle, who made a decision to leave their old lives and follow him. Because of this, the church traditionally understands Jesus to have taken the bread and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26) specifically to the twelve men and everyone after them who has made a choice to follow Jesus, not just any random group of people who stumble towards the rail at their cousin’s wedding or Aunt Margaret’s funeral.
But what if Jesus had run into some homeless people on his way to the last supper. Do you think he would have invited them?
My friend and I thought about the hundreds of times guys from the shelter showed up at church mid-service helping themselves to coffee hour in the back during the sermon, snoring through the Nicene Creed and stepping up for communion if they woke up in time. Not only did we decide Jesus would have invited them to the Last Supper it seems Jesus has kept inviting them ever since.
“And what about all of the women who followed Jesus?” My friend asked. I laughed thinking about how the story of Jesus feeding people with five loaves of bread and two fish ends. Astonished, Matthew’s Gospel concludes, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men….besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:21) The women and children are so irrelevant to Matthew they aren’t even worth counting! And what about the Marys and the other women who steeled themselves to stay during Jesus’ crucifixion, long after his inner circle of Apostles ran away? ( Mark 29:40-41) Might they have been at the Last Supper, just not important enough to the Gospel writers to mention?
“And what if a few of those women had cranky babies?” My friend asked. There’s that wild story in Mark about Jesus having so many people crammed into his house that a few of them dug a hole through his dirt roof to get to him. Was that the last straw? Did he kick them out and call the police? Nope. He just reveled in their faith. (Mark 2:5) If Jesus was up for that level of chaos, probably any crying babies at the Last Supper would have stayed.
When my friend and I were done adding people to the Last Supper I felt happy the way you do when you’re swapping theories about what someone you love would have done given some set of circumstances. Don’t you think saying, “My Uncle Bill would have had that fallen tree cut up and stacked as fire wood and hour after the nor’easter.” is the same as saying “My Jesus would have fed everybody.”?
There are six hundred and thirteen laws in the Torah ranging in topic from how to treat your enemy to how to cut your hair. At the end of an extensive list of rules for how to live a holy life, Deuteronomy 6 concludes “And you shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of God.” (Deuteronomy 6:18)
Is this a law too? And if so, what does it mean? The French, medieval Rabbi Rashi believed to appreciate the full spirit of the law requires reading between the lines. By taking action inspired, if not actually sanctioned by the Torah, he thought we show a sincere desire to be holy and this pleases God.
Before I was baptized I put out my hands for communion only because I was curious. That cube of Wonder Bread meant something right away and I’ve spend most of my life since working out what. Roman Catholic colleagues have placed the bread of heaven into my hands, even though it is against the rules. That kindness has spoken volumes to me about their Jesus. When Ahmed Shedeed, President of The Islamic Center of Jersey City accepted the invitation to worship at Grace a few years ago he knelt at the communion rail with open hands. When I handed him the host Jesus reached across the religious divide and for a moment made us one.
I can’t imagine that this kind of rule bending doesn’t please Jesus.
Your sister in Christ,