Improper and Out of Order But Full of Grace

Recently, I read a blog post written by a very good writer about Holy Communion. In the article, there was a line that gave me pause: “Come for all things are now ready!” and “all who are baptized are welcome.” After all, if you’ve not been baptized, if you are not Christian, then…what’s the point?

It was the “…what’s the point?” part that gave me pause.

Years and years ago, while serving a Presbyterian church as the pastor, I gave the invitation to communion just as the words are printed above except for the “all who are baptized” part. I left that out.

After the service, an alert elder told me I forgot to qualify the invitation. I had intentionally if erroneously left out the requirement for baptism according to Presbyterian theology of the table. I knew better. My doctoral project was about baptism, communion and reconciliation. I knew that we wash before we sit for the meal, so to speak. But in all honesty, I had been moving to a different place in my understanding of Jesus’ invitation. And that is “to the point.”

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” And, perhaps all those male children had had circumcision (equivalent of child baptism) and, of course, Jewish females were considered to be born circumcised but maybe a non-Jewish kid or two were in the group. Hypothetically (just for the sake of consideration) had an uncircumcised kid, snuck into the group? Probably not, but in light of what we affirm about God’s unconditional love, do we really think Jesus would have asked that kid to step aside and stand back?

I had to ask myself, Would Jesus let circumcision be a condition for acceptance and fellowship? And baptism (the Christian equivalent of circumcision) is a requirement for being welcome at the table?

Of course, it is a statement of community belief and practice: we wash (believer baptism) or are bathed (infant baptism) before being allowed to sit for supper. That’s the proper order.

I’ve said yes to Jesus in innumerable ways for most of my days. Some say there has to be complete surrender (symbolized in emersion baptism). I don’t know that I have ever done anything spiritually completely in all those days. I’ve always held out a little bit of me.

My life is an accumulation of “partial.” I am completely partial. My hunch is that most people are like that — going partway down the trail and then retreating, then down the trail again and again. If not, why are there meditations ad infinitum aimed at the believers about “letting go and letting God” in one form or another? No, I don’t believe in spontaneous sanctification.

My parents affirmed that my infant baptism is completely about God’s love and action and not mine. That is good, covenantal theology. If so, if life is all about God’s love and action and not mine (even though at some point decisions have to be made), then wouldn’t Jesus be inviting all of us to dinner — all, the great unwashed, as we all are in one way or another?

And so, when the worship leader invites us to Jesus’ table, he or she does so in the name of Jesus and that invitation is unconditional.

“Everyone who seeks fellowship with Jesus is invited to the table.” That’s Jesus’ love, Jesus’ action and not even lack of baptism can stand in the way.

In a sense then, the family (Body of Christ) custom of dining becomes a vehicle of euangelion — a source of “good news” for everyone, those preparing, those serving and the guests.

Couldn’t the church model the sojourner law of the Old Testament where if some outside the tribe or clan wander into covenantal territory they are given the royal treatment? “Hey, come on in. We have a place for you to rest and shortly there will be a hot meal served.” I bet some of those sojourners switched tribes in the light of such graciousness. I’m pretty sure the host or hostess didn’t check first to see if the sojourners were circumcised.

Ironically, the love and fellowship around that table might lead to baptism for the unbaptized and then back to the table. I’m not sure Jesus would care which way that would happen; I’m not sure Jesus would care as much about the proper order of things as those of us from traditions that emphasize doing things “properly and in order.”

Those of us who insist on things being done properly and in order might be missing out on the “Grace” before the bread is passed.

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