Everyone is Welcome at the Table?
Come to the table of love.
Come to the table of love.
This is God’s table, it’s not yours or mine.
Come to the table of love.*
Every month during Holy Communion, I stand behind a table at COTV and with my colleague in ministry, Rev. Jeff Wells, I proclaim to the faith community that I serve that everyone is welcome at Christ’s table. Each time, I quake with reverence at this truth because I believe in this welcome in ways that my mind cannot fully grasp. The table, this gathering place, is not only literal. It is also a metaphorical table that is a brief, but poignant representation of the table at which we will all gather at the full coming of God’s kin-dom. For me, this table is a glimpse of a world that is always, and not yet; one at which we are whole and equitable… our relations, just… our power, neither over another nor shrunk… our being and expression, authentic. There is love. At this table, for a time, God’s reign is made real in our midst.
When I think of who is welcome, I imagine the drug addicted-person who is struggling to break free from the bonds of the compulsion, or who isn’t in this place of struggling. I think of the new experience of grace and welcome that’s abundantly available each time we gather, and of the longtime Christian who is not feeling particularly moved by the clichéd ritual. I think of the first-timer who ponders the cannibalism of the moment. I think of the formerly incarcerated person. I think of people who need a hand getting to the communion station, and the toddler who will dip her entire hand in the common cup (it is gross; it is grace-full). My mind and heart imagine people of every race, every economic class, every level of cognitive and physical ability. These are those whom God has made, and has called us each “good.” As a follower of Jesus and a person called to full-time ministry, I strive to carry this table to every place and every person I encounter, even as I need to come to this table. This symbol of this place, where each one is welcome, I believe belongs in my everyday life and ministry practice. Every place of encounter becomes “the table” because every encounter is an opportunity to know God’s love, to see grace, to be transformed, and to dare reconciliation. Christ is there. God is there. God’s children are there.
Yet, as I consider this table where each and every one is welcome, I get a little uncomfortable. As a black queer woman, I think of Klansmen. I think of people who within 3 minutes of speaking with them, one will hear a misogynist “joke” or a sexist jab. I think of people who distort the gospel, making it exclusive. Further, I think of people who sexually abuse, who demonize other people groups that are unlike them, and CEOs who create policies to exploit the labor of people of lesser economic means. I think of people who wantonly throw away plastic! I immediately erect a barrier between that person and their place at the table. As a matter of fact, I have often mused about what it might be like to have only people who believed in love with justice, only people who shunned social evils and held to equitable relations as a practice of faith, only people who recycle their plastic at the table. I tend to think things would be a lot better if they weren’t at the table. Why? Because I don’t think they’re very nice. And, somewhere deep inside, I imagine I believe that they are not good enough to be at this place of undeserved love and fellowship of kindred minds.
How short-sighted. How short-memoried. How prideful.
Have I not internalized and expressed bias against various genders, including my own? Have I not internalized and expressed queerphobia? Have I not internalized and expressed racial hatred? I don’t like it. But, yes, I have and I do. While I haven’t made it a practice, there are certainly ways that I practice these types of sins and others.
Am I any less welcome at God’s table?
My transformed heart, overwhelmed by the experience of God’s grace so many years ago at my conversion and even to this very day… my eyes brimming with tears at the thought of God’s limitless love say “no.” The many opportunities I find for correction and trying again, say “no.” No, I, in all my faults, am not excluded from the table. Even when I don’t have the wherewithal to know I need to turn and go another way, there is still room at the table. Yes, there is a need for accountability and responsibility, and maybe even therapy. But I am not excluded. You are not excluded.
The beautiful and awe-inducing truth is that the very grace we need for transformation is available at that table. What an awesome, humbling, and sometimes annoying mystery God’s enrapturing, ever-flowing love is. Sometimes, I don’t want everyone at the table. Honestly, at my table, everyone is not welcome. I don’t want to deal. But, God’s Table superimposes over my dinky little table, and speaks of a higher calling and much longer enduring truth: every. one. is. welcome.
But this isn’t Pollyanna-ish.
Even while I am welcome, my… “stuff” is not. Your “stuff” is not. Their “stuff” is not. This table of powerful belonging** is a place of growing into whom God has called us to be. Thus, our “stuff” has to go. It is not welcome in this place because the “stuff” does harm to our neighbors, ourselves, and subsequently, God. We come to the table in order to more fully become. There, our neighbor or the Holy Spirit can call us out, and we can repent: again and again turning to God, and away from the “stuff” that estranges us from one another, ourselves and God (aka sin). We don’t get to hold onto our “stuff” that harms, and think that we are living into God’s desire for us. Our calling is higher than our comfort, and higher than our thoughts about people unlike us.
*From the hymn by Barbara Hamm, “Come to the Table of Grace”
** This phrase isn’t mine, but I love it.