October 3, 2016

Enlarging the Table

            Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, a time when the varied churches think about the hope of Eucharistic unity.  Around the world churches reflected on the reality of how large the table really is.  Realizing that the celebration of individual congregations is part of a much larger ecumenical practice gives embodiment to Jesus’ prayer that we “might be one.”

            That every Christian ecclesial body has the meal as a sustaining sacramental expression of worship portends the accord of Christ’s body.  Like baptism (in its varied forms), the table draws believers together in our mutual dependence upon Christ’s provision of life as the word continues to be made flesh.
            Students from Myanmar Institute of Theology are on Central’s campus for their Doctor of Ministry seminars, and yesterday they fanned out in the Kansas City area to attend churches.  Several of them led in communion services, and their presence made the “world” reality more tangible.

            Two times a year I gather with other women leaders in theological schools for professional development and heart-felt support.  We call ourselves the WiTS, i.e., Women in Theological Schools, and pray that we will always have our WiTS about us.  I find this time with these treasured colleagues life-giving and empowering for my leadership at Central.

            Saturday evening we celebrated Eucharist together, and our participants demonstrated how the meal makes our varied traditions one.  Our ecclesial traditions include Brethren, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Baptist.  We know the words; we know the power of the shared meal; and we know how much we need the ministry of the Risen Christ to do our work.
            As a child I knew when we added a leaf to the dining room table we were expecting company.  We were able to get a few more around the table because of this simple form of extension.  It certainly seemed more expansive to me, and the extra plates fit comfortably.  Enlarging the table was an expression of hospitality, and all were blessed through this quotidian practice.
            I am wondering how in our time congregations might make our tables more inclusive.  Do we need to provide welcome even before belief?  As Phyllis Tickle noted in her fine book The Great Emergence, people long to belong, and belief and behavior come later.  Are we willing to put a leaf in for the unbeliever?

            And there are other tables, also.  Whether in our homes or in a restaurant or coffee shop, with whom we share a table is quite revealing.  There is something very equalizing about putting our feet under a the same table as a “stranger.”  Table fellowship was central to the ministry of Jesus, and he scandalized many by his inclusive patterns.
            Maybe a new form of evangelism in our day is a simple invitation to sit down with others to share a meal.  These tables may be prelude to the Lord’s Table.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders to embody the Gospel.

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