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A welcome confrontation

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Who is welcomed at the Lord’s Table? I was challenged by this question at a communion celebration while visiting a church during my time at seminary.

The church was a familiar MB setting, so I was expecting business as usual. Instead, I was caught off guard. I had grown accustomed to the words, symbols, and people that accompany this celebration, so when I saw some unique faces among the servers, I was curious.

The members who served the elements on this particular Sunday were not your typical churchgoers. They were not well-respected members of society, nor were they particularly talented, wealthy, wise, or accomplished. As they walked to the front, it became clear that the servers were from a nearby home for community living. Yet, these individuals brought a sense of joy to the celebration that I had never witnessed before.

As I watched these two men serve communion assisted by others, I was brought to tears. I had been confronted by the Host of the table: he revealed to me a brilliant picture of the true beauty of his church.

A different kind of host

Although we prepare the bread and wine, set the table, and observe communion, Christ is the host of the celebration. It is God who calls and gathers us to worship, and through this worship we are transformed into the people of God. As one of the central aspects of our worship and liturgy, the Lord’s Table is where we gather to meet with Christ and are formed into his body.

Forgetting that Jesus is the host of the table leads to slipping into the role of host ourselves. We draft up guest lists and seating charts to make sure that the right people are given places of honour. We lay out guidelines detailing who is invited and who is not. We choose the esteemed and respectable to offer the prayers and distribute the bread.

Jesus was and is a different kind of host. He ate with sinners and tax collectors, showed compassion for the hungry multitudes, and even stooped to wash his disciples’ feet at the Passover meal. His earthly ministry offers no guide for hosting elegant dinner parties – his list of invitees and his table manners would never be featured in Martha Stewart Living.

When Christ draws up the guest list, enemies and strangers are seated side by side. The socially awkward, the poor, and the least have a place of honor at the table. Christ’s pattern of hospitality is dangerous and subversive.

The supper symbolizes God’s power to reconcile us to himself and to each other. When we encounter Christ at the table, we will inevitably be surprised by the other guests we see gathered there, just as I was that Sunday morning. The words and actions of our communion liturgy reflect a new reality, demonstrating to a hungry world God’s power to welcome strangers and create restored fellowship.

Tabitha VandenEnden is a member at Kitchener (Ont.) MB Church and an MA student at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg.

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