It has been an issue for many clergy (at least the honest ones) to look out on Easter morning and see the faces of people they have rarely or never seen. Who are these people? Why will they not be here next Sunday? It is nice to have a full church, but why just on this Sunday? Is it their new clothes? Is it because they have a church standard which requires them to attend twice per year? Is it because God or the resurrection story has somehow touched them and they just felt they had to be there?
What ever the reason, these folks are there. Now arises the real questions. What do we do with them? How do we treat them? Will they return? Does it matter? Are they welcome?
Here is how many Episcopal churches respond. At a point before the beginning of the consecration of the elements at the altar a priest will say something like this: “The Episcopal Church is an open communion church. All baptized persons are welcome to receive communion at this altar.” (Then follows a commentary on how to hold your hands to receive the host/bread, how to receive the chalice, and how to conduct yourself if you want to come forward for a blessing).
I just want to scream at this point. I look at the program for Good Friday and there it is in print, right after the Lord's Prayer, BCP, Page 364. “All baptized Christians are now invited to receive Holy Communion.”
What are we doing? What kind of place is our church? We welcome people who are visiting. We tell them we are glad to have them with us. We don't care if they came with a friend, because they know a member, because they say an ad in the paper, because they felt a message from the Holy Spirit, or if they just wondered in from the street. We welcome them and ask them to fill out a card in the pew and give us their name and a way we might be in touch with them and really welcome them.
HOWEVER, when it comes time for communion – only the baptized are invited to the altar.
What are we telling people who find their way in, feel a warm welcome, and then, at the big moment, we say, “Not so fast there, newcomer.”
Is that what we want? Let us stop this. Everyone is welcome at the table. This is not our table. It is God's table.
In the past few months, I have heard two priests say this in the liturgy. Once at a funeral and once at the blessing of a couple. These were special times.
I thought perhaps we were getting better. Alas, it has not been heard since by me.
It is my belief that every celebration is a special time, but I have been disappointed before. I, a baptized person, have been in churches where I was not welcome at the altar and it felt very bad. There was a sense that whatever God I knew, it was not enough to take communion in that place. It is a terrible feeling to be in a church and to be thought of as unwelcome at the altar. I do not wish that on anyone from any church or from no church. Our God is larger than that.
The issue is really about us and how we wish to be a welcoming community. This is not yesteryear. It is now and it is us.
Please, let us be more Christ like. Happy Easter to all.