Who is welcome at the table?
I remember the first time my family was sitting in church when the communion trays were passed & one of our kids wanted to take communion.
Now I grew up in a church where kids weren’t allowed to take communion unless they broke into the church kitchen & stole some bread & juice! We thought that communion was only for the baptized.
But now I’m sitting in church with my kids. I’ve been to church my whole life. I’ve read the Bible & the words of Jesus hundreds of times. I’ve got degrees in Bible. But here, in this moment, everything I had ever been taught about communion was colliding with everything I knew to be true about Jesus. And it was evident in that moment, one of these things is not like the other.
I had grown up believing certain things about communion, but in that moment I couldn’t line up anything I had been taught with what I knew to be true about Jesus…
Because Jesus never gave any caveats. He never said, “For whosoever adults believe in me will have eternal life.” He never said, “I want all the adults to do this in remembrance of me.”
In fact, when you read the story of Jesus & the words of Jesus, he never excluded anyone.
In fact, everything I know about Jesus leads me to believe that most everyone if not everyone is welcome at His table.
When you go through the story of Scripture & zoom out the camera lens you get a bigger perspective on this holy moment.
The Passover Table
For example, children & foreigners were welcome at the Passover table. Exodus 12.24-27; 48-49.
The Passover meal was a family meal. An all inclusive meal. Children were at the table participating & learning about the story of God & how God had saved them. Rescued them.
This is how children, generation after generation, received the faith of their parents & it’s why… when hundreds of years would go by & it would seem as if God were absent, that the people of Israel never let go of their faith!
They had been taught at the table from the time they were young about this God who had delivered them before & would deliver them again. This is how parents discipled their children.
But children weren’t the only ones welcome. Any outsiders who observed the law of Moses were welcome to participate in Passover as well.
This is how those on the outside looking in came to believe in the God of Israel. The story of the Exodus shared at the passover table was a powerful witness to the world around them about the God they served.
The Table & Jesus
And this same openness at the table is reflected in what we call the table ministry of Jesus. When Jesus started His ministry, something amazing happened & people took notice. Jesus often eats with, or sits at table with, different kinds of people. In fact, seven different times Luke tells stories about Jesus eating with sinners & saints. The worst of the worst & the religious elite.
So you have stories about Jesus not only eating with a notorious tax collector like Matthew at his house with his friends, but also choosing him to be one of his 12 disciples! And the religious elite couldn’t believe it. Luke 5.27-32
But Jesus wasn’t opposed to eating with them either.
Jesus also has dinner with a highly regarded Pharisee. One of the religious leaders in town. But He’s not bothered at all when an “immoral woman” comes to the table too. Luke 7:36-39 The Pharisee is, but NOT Jesus. The Pharisee seemed to think he was the host at the table but when Jesus is at the table, he’s the host. And Jesus seems to welcome sinners & saints at His table. In fact, Jesus never turns anyone away.
In that day & time & in that culture, women & children were pretty low on the status chart in terms of worth & importance. But not for Jesus. He not only elevated the status of women in His ministry by welcoming them to the table (Luke 7:36-39), to be His disciples (Luke 10.38-42), and to be a part of His ministry (Luke 8.1-3), but He also welcomed children.
When we read the story about Jesus welcoming the kids, we think it’s really nice (Luke 18.15-17) But this would have been shocking & surprising to those original readers of Luke’s story about Jesus.
What happens is that Jesus doesn’t just welcome kids, He reprimands those who would keep kids away from Him. Then He goes on to say that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!
The Lord’s Supper
So when we get the story of the Last Supper, when Jesus shares the Passover meal with his disciples right before His death, He does something that was again shocking & unbelievable.
Jesus gathers His disciples in an upper room for Passover, but instead of telling a past story of how God had saved them, Jesus changed the language. He changed the story. This was surprising & unexpected. Luke 22.7-30
You don’t change the Exodus story. You don’t change the Passover speech. But Jesus did.
It’s no longer about what God did in the Exodus. It’s about what God is about to do through Jesus on the cross.
So when the church began to gather they would gather in homes. And at every meal you would have bread & wine. It was the common food & drink at every table, which I love. Acts 2.42-47; 20.11; 1 Corinthians 11.17-34
Jesus takes the common & says use it to remember the uncommon. He takes the ordinary & uses it to remember the extraordinary. Luke 22.7-30
So when the church gathered in homes to worship, they would always eat together. And at the table everyone was present… young & old, insiders & outsiders, Jew & Gentile, male & female, slave & free, rich & poor, all were welcome at the table!
It was for everyone because it was a witness to the grace of God, which is for everyone.
Children were at the table because they are a part of the community of faith. They too are on a faith journey. And the Lord’s Supper shapes that faith. It tells the story of our faith, the gospel story, that Jesus died, was buried & rose again. And that one day He will come again.
When children are allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper, they participate in our faith. The participate in the story. They experience the love of God with us. For our children, this becomes a moment where they learn every week of the great love of God. They get to touch & taste the bread & the juice.
You could argue that communion was the original kids worship experience. Kid’s may not listen to a sermon, but they can touch the bread & taste it, they can touch the cup & taste it, and then when they hear their parents whisper in their ear — God loves you so much that He sent Jesus to come from Heaven to earth to live & die & then rise again so that one day we could be with Him forever — when they take the bread & the cup & hear that story every week — they are shaped & formed every week by the gospel. This is how we disciple them — at communion, we are literally making disciples of our children every week at the table!
This is true for children as well as guests – those who have not yet claimed Jesus as Lord & Savior.
I was raised in a church that said you had to be baptized to take communion. Baptism is a moment where we commit our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ & claim Him as Savior. But the table is where we first learn who that Lord & Savior is & the great extent of His love for us!
Anyone who is seeking God is welcome to His table. And by the way, there’s a reason we call it the “Lord’s” table. It His table, not ours. He is the host. Not us. He gets to decide who is welcome. Not us.
So let me ask you this, if God were in the business of saying who was & wasn’t welcome at the table, would you ever be welcome by the standards we’ve created if you’re being honest?
You are welcome because all are welcome because Jesus is the host. It’s the Lord’s table. It’s His table.
And His table is the place where all are welcome, where the story is retold & our faith is formed.
Back to the Story
So on that Sunday that my daughter looked at me & asked me if she could have communion, I quickly ran everything I knew about the Lord’s Supper & Jesus through my brain. And when I realized there was absolutely no reason why not, I gathered my kids around me, I gave them the bread & I whispered the story to them. Jesus, you know Jesus, He loves you so much that He came from heaven to earth for you. He lived here on earth & then He died on the cross so one day we could be in Heaven with Him. This bread reminds us that His body died on the cross. It reminds us how much He loves us. And then I took the juice, & I whispered the story again. And I reminded them of God’s great love.
And I’ve been whispering the gospel story almost every Sunday since to my kids!
And you know what the heart of the story is? It’s this simple truth…
In Jesus, you are loved by God & you are welcome to His table just as you are.
What if all of us… No matter your age. Gender. Status. Past. Present. Future. Situation. Regret. What if you are loved by God & you are welcome to take communion at His table? To not just hear the story, but experience it as we take the bread & the cup.
What if all of us are welcome at the table of God where Jesus serves as the host to eat & drink & be reminded that we are loved, so very loved.
Here’s the thing, Jesus isn’t going to seat you at one table & me at another. There is no kids table in the Kingdom of Heaven. There is no sinners table over here & saints table over there. No. There’s just a table. And all are welcome to it. And guess what, that’s GOOD NEWS.
It wouldn’t be good news to find out some are welcome & some are not.
It wouldn’t be good news to learn to that you had to do certain things, jump through certain hoops in order to be welcome to the table.
The good news, the gospel, is that you are welcome. Just as you are.
If you would like to do more reading along these lines, here are two resources I would recommend. Many of the ideas I’ve shared in this post are found here & better expressed in these books.
Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper by John Mark Hicks
Along the Way: Conversations about Children & Faith by Ron Bruner & Dana Kennamer Pemberton