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When We Withhold Communion

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Yesterday, as we worshipped together at ministrieslab, I offered an invitation to the table. An invitation to anyone who wanted to come. I offered the same thoughts that we offer each week, “It doesn’t matter when the last time you went to church was or what church that was, God’s table is open to all.”

There was a woman who hadn’t been in worship with us, but was waiting at the doorway for the next class. As we wrapped up with the Amen chorus, she ventured into the conference room. She complimented the pianist telling him how powerful his music was and how it moved and encouraged her. She came in where I was packing up the communion elements. I offered her the rest of the communion bread, something we do every week in case there is someone who is hungry and needs a bit more than a pinch of bread to sustain them. She shook her head no. I offered again explaining that she was welcome to it, knowing that to be homeless is to be vulnerable and being offered handouts is often offensive. She shook her head again. Sensing something in her eyes, a question or a hesitation, I offered one last time.

She explained that she wanted to take communion. The juice had already been given to someone else, but I told her I would be happy to pour the cup again, just for her. “I want to take communion, but people have told me I shouldn’t because you have to be a certain kind of person to take communion.”

I looked her in her eyes and said, “I’m a minister and I’m offering you this bread and cup to remember that we are all offered new life.” She took the smallest pinch of the body of Christ I have ever seen and dipped just a little into the cup. After she had eaten the bread dipped from the cup, she took the cup and raised it to her lips. She finished the small amount I had served just for her. As she handed the cup back to me, I said, “Thanks be to God.” “Amen,” she muttered.

When we withhold communion from people who need to be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made on the night he was betrayed, we withhold new life from them. When we withhold communion from people because of their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or whether they have a home or not, we are withholding God from them. When we withhold communion, we are withholding God’s love and God’s hope and instead offering them exclusion and brokenness.

When we withhold communion from people, we are forgetting, not remembering. We are forgetting that in the wilderness God offered manna from heaven to God’s people: the people who had faith and the people who were complaining, whining, and had no faith. We are forgetting that Jesus on the night he was betrayed offered the bread and the cup to the very person who was about to betray him. We are forgetting that in the midst of our own brokenness, we were offered the hope and healing in the body and blood of Christ.

Thanks be to God that we are welcomed to God’s table even when we tell others there is no seat for them.