I recently have heard a story which breaks my heart for a number of reasons. However, as sad as the story is, it also brings me a sense of hope for us as a community of faith. The story is that Joe Biden, former Vice-President and candidate for President, was denied communion because of one of his political positions. I want to quickly state that it is well within the “rights” of the church in question to disallow someone at the table. At the same time, I find that decision to be an affront to what communion stands for.
To explain why I have such strong opinions about communion I need to share a story with you from twenty years ago. My grandfather on my dad’s side of the family died in November of 1999 and I traveled to California to attend his funeral. My dad’s family is predominately Catholic, so the mass was held at the church my grandparents attended. Since my early years were spent in the Roman Catholic Church, I knew the practice in that church is to only serve communion to members of the RCC. I hadn’t been a part of the Catholic church in many years, so I knew going into the service that I wasn’t “supposed” to take communion.
When the priest gave the invitation to eucharist, I was dumbfounded. It was easily the most open invitation to communion I have ever heard in a Catholic church. By his words, I was welcomed to the table. But I knew the church’s position. And, as a young man still struggling to find my identity as a follower of Jesus, I stayed in my seat. Honestly, I still regret that decision to this day. If I could turn back the clock, I would have gone forward for communion that day. I would have participated, not as a sign of resistance, and without a hint of disrespect, but as a way of honoring my grandfather and his faith.
It was right about the same time that Jennie and I were becoming involved with the First Christian Church in Lebanon, and beginning to learn about the theology and practices of the Disciples of Christ. Chief among those practices is the openness of the Lord’s Table. I quickly became enamored with our theology of communion, and the open table is one of the key elements of my faith to this day.
So, while I support that church’s right to serve communion to only those whom they see fit, I emphatically proclaim that I believe the Lord’s Table is open to ALL people. For me, the open table is one way I can honor my grandfather, and his faith. Though I didn’t go forward to partake of communion that day, every time I celebrate the Lord’s Supper at an open table, I remember Frank Ruth, Sr. and the impact he had, and continues to have, on my life.