A Muslim man joined us recently for our regular communion service at the place where I live and work. Which made me think hurriedly about how to do communion inclusively and build bridges rather than barriers. I could of course simply have said “This is not for you, but you’re welcome to observe”, as indeed you might, but as part of a community that is trying hard to get along well with our ‘cousins’, I knew this wasn’t how we would want to treat a visitor. So I improvised.
Communion can in many ways be one of the most exclusive things Christians can do. It focuses on the death (real, not seeming) and resurrection (tangible) of Jesus the Messiah, the divine Son of God. The introductory words we say often make it clear that this is only for people who trust in Him for their salvation. Then we pray to him, and at the climax we may also drink alcoholic wine. So for a Muslim person even to attend this event as a guest is an act of outreach to us.
For some of us, communion will be a non-negotiable. It is only for believers, and we shouldn’t compromise it. Others will not think it particularly important how we do it. I think communion is vitally important, but I do value thinking through how we can make it more inclusive. 15 years ago I felt scandalised when a church I attended suggested that the ‘belong, behave, believe’ model meant communion wasn’t the final reward for completing the Christian initiation process but a part of that journey itself. Today, I feel differently.
Someone once told me that if our mission is not stretching the boundaries of our theology, we are not stepping out deep enough. So how do we do communion differently? And indeed we need to think about other things too which are essentials of our faith but which may also alienate those enquiring. Should we wear hats when we pray or take our shoes off when we enter a church building? What posture should we adopt when we pray?
As we rethink mission for another age and multiple competing/complementary paradigms and worldviews there is a need for more discussion about what can be changed and what can’t, what is essential and what is cultural. As you go through this week there will be many things that you do as part of your outreach/mission simply because you’ve always done them that way. Why don’t you take the opportunity to ask yourself if there’s another way, different but equally good.
So in presiding over communion with our Muslim visitor, I dispensed with our usual liturgy and read the story of the road to Emmaus. I explained that we are all on a journey, and Jesus walks with us on it, but we don’t always recognise him. I shared the broken bread and cup of fruit juice as reminders of the meal he had in Emmaus, and said that perhaps we would see him better as we eat. I pointed out that the meal mirrors the one he had with his disciples the night before he died, when he told us to eat it and remember him. I said that he loved eating and drinking and would welcome everyone to eat with him, and he welcomes all of us too. We don’t have to be perfect to eat with him.
And we all ate together. After all, the essence of communion is reconciliation, isn’t it?
Blog post first published on 21 May 2018 on www.syzygy.org.uk.