One of many great lessons I learned in the Episcopal Church has to do with the table of the Lord. Again and again, the priest intoned, “it is the Lord who calls us to the table, not the church.” My own church would do well to heed this advice.
Sadly of course, we know that so far it has not. It continues to pick and choose, based on often flimsy biblical evidence, who may approach the communion table. And the scriptures today, do point to this fallacy it seems to me.
In Ezekiel 17: 22-24, God speaks through the prophet:
I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.
Now I would be the first to tell you that exegetically speaking, this passage probably has nothing at all to do with Jesus. Just as assuredly, all Christians look to the Hebrew Scriptures as speaking to the coming of Christ. So in the passage above, the tender shoot is Jesus, who will put forth his Church, bearing branches and fruit. Note that it further says, “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, . . .” Now this may in fact be stretching a point, but I don’t think it unfair to suggest that the passage doesn’t limit those who will find a home there to only some chosen group or groups.
While there is no direct statement in Ezekiel, we are further advised in 2 Corinthians, that we, as believers, “walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, we as followers in Jesus must do our best to understand his teachings and then live by them, trusting in faith that God, through the great Spirit of Wisdom will guide us aright.
Of even more importance, we must recognize that as members of the body, we are all individually responsible for living up to our baptismal promises. We cannot, much as we might like, rely on the Church to advise us on what is good and proper. Paul tells us:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5: 6-10)
Surely we must always give due respect to the official teaching of the Church, and we must do everything in our power to understand and reconcile our own beliefs with those of the Church. But in the end, it is our own conscience which must lead us forth, and we cannot stand behind the curtain of the Church on judgment day, however you might define that for yourself. We are each solely responsible for our living up to our promises to do good.
It is always a bit amusing to me how the more conservative members of the Christian community tend to rely most heavily on Saint Paul to the exclusion often times of Jesus himself.
Jesus was noted, throughout his entire ministry for inclusion rather than exclusion. He went out of his way to point this out, in the people he ate with and in the people he healed. Many of his “friends” were scandalous. They were non-Jews, gentiles and Samaritans, unclean persons, tax collectors, and all manner of reprobates. And he treated them all with the same welcome. He healed, he broke bread, he spoke with them.
He at no time ever advised his followers to reject anyone as unworthy.
Yet the Church does.
Is our Lord powerful enough to deny his presence to any of us if he deems us unworthy to meet him at the table?
If so, then it would seem prudent to allow him to make his own choices. The Church should in every way, welcome, soothe, and minister to the all God’s people.
But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4:26-34)
- “With what can we compare the kingdom of God?” (worryisuseless.wordpress.com)
- “Now Seeds, START GROWING!!” Trusting God for Growth: Readings for the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (thesacredpage.com)