I am happily affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for many reasons. One of the heftiest is that we profess "no creed but Christ," which means that I did not have to contort myself into a theological box to pass my ordination interviews. And the other big reason I'm a Disciple is because of the strong tradition of the open table. We deny no one the sacrament of Communion. The conviction we share is that Christ is the host, and no human being has the right to obstruct a person from receiving the bread and the cup. We aren't the only folks who welcome all to the table, but there are a number of other traditions have stringent rules about Communion, placing restrictions regarding age, baptism, membership, adherence to creeds, lifestyle, etcetera. I have felt the alienation of being present for a Eucharist meal to which I was not invited. It is essential to my faith to be part of a denomination that practices radical hospitality at the table. That being said, I respect the theological convictions of our sister churches. I might not understand the impulse to preserve the table, but I do understand that it is a practice rooted in deep reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ.
However. As much as I respect the theological convictions arguing against the open table, I have a really difficult time with the related issue of accessibility to the table. Part of this issue is obvious: if the chancel's not accessible, take a note from Meals on Wheels and bring the bread and cup into the pews. But part of the issue is less visible. There are also denominations which stipulate that only the traditional elements may be blessed, broken, taken, and eaten as the Lord's Supper. That means if you are allergic to wheat, you're out of luck. There were a series of articles in the papers a few years ago about some Roman Catholic dioceses' decisions to limit alternatives to the traditional Communion wafer (this one, for instance). In my mind, subsituting a rice wafer for a wheat wafer is no biggie - but then again, I'm not down with the whole transubstantiation thing, so maybe I'm just missing the theological import of gluten.
If the content of the paragraph immediately proceeding this one tests the boundaries of my ecumenism, this AP account is officially the limit of my tolerance. The article explains that the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix recently wrote a letter disallowing a ten-year-old autistic boy from taking Holy Communion until he can swallow the wafer himself. The boy suffers from a common autistic condition that makes him unable to swallow certain textures of foods. Turns out for the past three years, he has taken Communion by taking the wafer in his mouth and then giving it to his father, who then swallows the wafer for him.
I'm all about new images of God - new ways of imagining how the Creator and Giver of Life relates to this world. Each one reveals another dimension of the Divine. A mother hen gathering her chicks is a biblical marvel; a Restless Weaver knitting the world whole again is a beloved image from the Chalice Hymnal. And now I have a new favorite: a father who would swallow his kid's soggy Communion wafer.
But the Bishop won't have any of it. According to the AP article, "Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said the boy cannot accept communion until he can "actually receive the Eucharist, actually take and eat." Roberto Dell'Oro, a Roman Cathlolic theologian from Loyola Marymount, commented that the Bishop might be missing the point.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took a loaf of break, and broke it, and said "This is my body, broken for you."
We are never too broken to receive the grace of God in all its tangible and intangible forms. May Bishop Olmsted recognize his own brokenness. May we all recognize our own brokenness. And may we all take and eat, and if we cannot, we are all blessed to have a Heavenly Father who will swallow the burden for us.