It’s befuddling – to me, at least – that The Christian Post, in having had the same amount of time to look over resolutions proposed for Indianapolis this summer as everyone else, has decided to highlight resolution C040, which promotes “open table” by eliminating Canon I.17.7, the requirement of baptism as necessary for reception of Holy Communion.
It’s befuddling because given the sort of the things an organization like this professes about itself in its Statement of Faith; given who and what it endorses through its membership in organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals; given that its current lead story is about walking that fine line of “loving the sinner and hating the sin”; … given all these things, you’d think there would be greater interest in some of the other material presented for consideration by General Convention. (In March, The Post did raise its eyebrows when “I Will bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing” was floated.) Compared to the idea that The Episcopal Church may be preparing to unapologetically alter its liturgy to honor and bless all persons’ unions regardless of their sexual orientation, open table seems pretty tame. Again – at least to me.
So, why open table? I have to think that a finite number of admittedly overlapping possibilities is in play here:
1. It’s getting on near summer and the news cycle is slowing down, and C040 was one of the few resolutions on the GC web site to offer supporting material, making it easier for the reporter to flesh out; or
2. People in general and evangelicals in particular may have just grown bone-weary of being beaten up over the issue of the church’s role in promoting marriage equality; or
3. Open communion could actually be a really big deal because the idea of it for some controverts a traditionally held view of the order of sacraments, the construction of baptismal and ecclesial identity, and so on; and this is an issue taking place around a liturgical church but still “large enough to be seen from space” – or at any rate, the offices of The Christian Post.
If we want to take the third possibility into serious consideration, then we’ll want, too, to examine the substance of the resolution’s rationale. Here’s a small part of it:
Grace as mediated in the Sacrament of Eucharist, is nourishment for our redemptive work in and with human systems, most especially the very one we have been charged with stewarding.
This redemptive work cannot be done only by those within the system but must involve people outside the system. Therefore, when people feel called to our Table we, as stewards of our Table, are called to welcome them so that we might work together towards redemption. This is not to proclaim that all people are “anonymous Christians,” but it is to say that as Christians, we more than anyone should know that the mystery of our Sacraments is beyond our ability to comprehend and, by implication, beyond our ability to contain. Our location as Christians enables us to identify the Holy Spirit at work, not to own it. Nonetheless, we are wholly responsible for stewarding this Table, not to create boundaries as if we could protect the Sacrament, but to point to it and translate to all who come among us that God is incarnate in the flesh of the Son. And we must not be wary, but faithful that the Holy Spirit is present and guiding those who come, while we bring our ministry of service and hospitality to our most sacred place.
The authors’ intent (the lege is from the Diocese of Eastern Oregon) is for something more than the rote argument for hospitality, necessary as that is; they’re casting Open Table, in this small section, as an outworking of how stewardship of what God is given is perceived and wrought. That may be an argument already said more plainly somewhere else (the authors very much like a Spring 2009 Anglican Theological Review article by Stephen Edmondson), but it moves the question of open table out of its typical range about just being nice to strangers, and it moves it into a place of consideration at a decision-making level for the whole of The Episcopal Church.
Perhaps it is that in a standard perusal of convention materials, the Post writer’s antenna was raised by a fairly startling call to move into a new way of seeing something that’s been perceived in a static way for many years.