Rev. Karen Hernandez, pastor of Living Hope~Kuna United Methodist Church
This summer I’m paying particular attention to stories and songs that capture the essence of my faith. For me, that must include Holy Communion.
Holy Communion, the sacramental meal of bread and grape juice patterned after Jesus’ last supper, is an important part of my faith. I have loved communion since I was a child! I love the parts of it that I understand: that grace is offered and received, that all are welcome, that it’s an act of practicing what Jesus told us to do and in the process we are better equipped to practice the ways Jesus would have us live every facet of our lives.
I also love the parts of Holy Communion that I don’t understand: that grace somehow holds me to a high standard while erasing all of my imperfections and trip-ups of the past, that something miraculous happens when people invite God to inhabit ordinary bread and store-brand grape juice, that it’s all true, which I know because I have felt the grace at work inside me.
For me, the most meaningful part of Holy Communion is my church’s tradition of the
“open table.” That means that anyone and everyone who chooses to partake is invited to do so. Scripture shows Jesus setting the precedent for the open table. Look to Matthew 9:9-13. There we meet Matthew the tax collector. He’s a working guy in a corrupt system trying to get by the only way one can in such a system. As Jesus walks by Matthew, he says simply, “Follow me,” and Matthew does. Matthew follows Jesus straight to dinner, where he discovers that he is far from the only tax collector, much less the only sinner invited into Jesus’ company.
The critics ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answers, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
This is but a glimpse into a few moments of Jesus life, but I think these verses encapsulate much of Jesus’ ministry, and they certainly remind me of my calling. If there’s a theme song for my life of discipleship, my song is most certainly, “For Everyone Born.” I believe there is room for everyone at Jesus’ dinner table. Many songs articulate that belief, but this song is different for me because of the chorus:
“God will delight
when we are creators of justice
and joy, compassion and peace.
Yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy!”
It’s no secret that Uncle Mike is the favorite uncle in my family. He does all the favorite uncle things…like flying in to spend the holidays with us and renting a red sports car and driving all the nieces around town, one at a time, for us to wave and pretend we were famous! Uncle Mike was a confirmed bachelor until he met my Aunt Denise and all the adoring nieces and nephew got to take part in their grand wedding! Even as Uncle Mike has had a family of his own, he’s kept his childlike spirit. He’ll do anything for those whom he loves! He’s quick to laugh. He’s a man of deep and sincere faith. He means the world to me, and he was unable to attend my wedding. So as family and friends arrived from across the state and across the country, there was this undeniable part of me that was absolutely heart-broken that Uncle Mike wouldn’t be part of it. Those who arrived a couple of days early monopolized the small restaurant for dinner one night. We were crowded around a large table that echoed with loud conversations and laughter. More guests came in straight from the interstate or their flights. Sometime after we ordered, someone tapped me on the shoulder, leaned it, and asked me from behind, “Do you have room for one more?” I nearly knocked the chair over as I jumped to my feet and cried on Uncle Mike’s shoulder! I hugged him and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so grateful you’re here!”
I think that overwhelming gratitude and unspeakable elation is what God must feel, too, every time another beloved child accepts the invitation. The justice is that, where all are welcome, there is always room for one more. The joy comes every time one more joins the feast. The grace we receive in Holy Communion equips us to invite and celebrate others, to be creators of this very justice and joy. When we do, God delights!