Sunday, July 06, 2008

Table of Radical Hospitality

At my church this morning we used a communion liturgy that I wrote. (It wasn't my idea, but I'm glad it happened. I showed the liturgy to our pastor, and she liked it so much she ran with it. I had no expectation that we'd actually use it!)

I'm sure I'll write more on this liturgy, which focuses on ministries of hospitality and reconciliation, as well as on what it means to join together at the table of Christ in a world in which many go hungry. For now, I'm simply posting the liturgy here, along with the observation that I'm more proud of this liturgy than anything I've ever done as a Christian, a (now former) pastor, and as a budding theologian.

Parts of it will no doubt draw the ire of some, and I welcome respectful discussion of any aspect of this liturgy.

Anyway, here it is:

(Note: some of the material in this is taken from a traditional United Methodist communion liturgy, in a slightly modified form.)


Opening Prayer

Let us pray.

Holy, mysterious God, come.
Frustrate our desire to divide your creation, to hastily render false binary
judgments: in or out, neighbor or stranger, friend or foe.

Holy, mysterious God, come.
Confound our categories by refusing to reduce your holy mystery.
Remind us once again that you who made us – each of us, all of us in your image cannot and will not be fashioned in our image, fractured into a fraction of your holy mystery.

Holy, mysterious God, come. Amen.


This table and everything on it, belongs to God, whose hospitality is limitless. That limitless, divine hospitality welcomes all to the table, without exception. That limitless, divine hospitality bids all to come, to share this bread and all bread, to share this cup and all cups, so that none may hunger or thirst. Let us pray:

God who is female no less than male, God who is black, who is brown, no less than white, God who is gay no less than straight, God who is poor no less than rich: Call us again to model your holy hospitality. Burn into the very fiber of our being your love for the stranger. Unlock our hearts as we unlock the doors to this church building.

Confession and Pardon

But we do not always model God’s hospitality, do we? We still erect walls around us, and hid behind them for our security. We still trust locks and security systems more than God. We still love our televisions, our computers, our pews, our Bibles, our Hymnals, our dry-erase boards, our microphones and sound equipment, our projectors and our screens, the pictures on our walls, and yes, even this table, more than we love our neighbor. And, so we pray:

Holy and merciful God, we confess our failure to be a hospitable church. We confess to harboring fear and mistrust in our hearts. We have seen the news on our televisions, telling us to fear the stranger, the other, all around us. And so too often we have enclosed ourselves behind these walls, playing church instead of being church, preaching love instead of offering it. For this sin against holy hospitality we pray for your forgiveness, knowing that your grace is also an empowering grace. And so, in the grace of your promised forgiveness we pray that you free us for joyful obedience as we strive again to model your holy hospitality. Amen.

Hear the good news:

God’s grace is limitless; God’s mercy overflowing. God’s act of reconciliation, through all God’s prophets, and especially Jesus, who reveals to us God’s concerns and even God’s very nature, knows no bounds. And, so we can say:

In the name of Jesus the Christ, we are forgiven and freed! Glory to God. Amen.

Communion and Reconciliation

This table is a table of reconciliation. As we come to it we are reminded that on the night he was betrayed Jesus gathered his closest friends and followers, and ate with them a meal that would become a central ritual in the church. But though that was and is an important meal, it is not the only meal Jesus ate. He not only dined with his closest friends and followers, he also opened his table to anyone and everyone. Sinners and tax collectors, thieves and sex-workers, the poor, the unclean, women and men; anyone who sought the company of Jesus at the table was and is welcomed with open arms. The fellowship of his table knew and knows no borders, and so neither should the fellowship of this church. As we eat from this bread and drink from this cup, let us be reconciled to each other and to this community, tearing down the walls we build between us, fully participating in God’s ministry of reconciliation in the world.

The Holy One be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Holy One.
Let us give thanks to the Holy God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Most Holy God, creator and sustainer of all that was, is and will be. And, so we join the hymn of all creation, saying:

Holy, Holy, Holy God, of limitless love and mercy, all of creation is full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed be the one who comes in your name. Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you, and blessed be Jesus, who reveals you to us. Through him you reconcile creation to you. Make us a part of that great ministry, reconciling us to our neighbors, and to you.

On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus took the bread, gave thanks to you, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said: “Drink from this, all of you; this is the cup of the covenant, shared freely with you and with many for forgiveness and reconciliation. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” And, so in remembrance of, and solidarity with, your ministry of hospitality and reconciliation through Jesus the Christ, we offer you our very selves and all that we have or ever hope to get, in praise and thanksgiving, in union with Christ and with our neighbor, as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Pour out your Spirit here and everywhere, and on this bread, and this cup. Make them be food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, as we with Christ give all we have until none may hunger or thirst again. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one with our neighbor, as we work toward the final feast that is the end of hunger, of thirst, of need.


The Meal is Eaten.

Closing Prayer

God of reconciliation, you showed your prophet Isaiah a holy mountain, a mount of impossible reconciliation, a mount were natural enemies, enemies from the dawn of time, lie next to each other, vulnerable, exposed, but without fear. Without fear because they know that the intimate acquaintance with you, with your ways, drives out our relentless lust for violence, our talent for mayhem, filling your creation with the yearning for peace and reconciliation rather than for division and conquering.

Show us this holy mountain, as well. Give us the courage to dream, and the conviction to work with you to bring this impossible dream into reality. Amen.


james stinson said...

i hope i can experience some of that radical hospitality you speak of, chris.

longing to be shown respect and treated as one would treat christ,


james stinson said...

i hope i can be shown such radical hospitality and treated with respect and a sense of belonging.

Chappy said...

Well done, sir. Well done.

Renee said...

God who is female no less than male, God who is black, who is brown, no less than white, God who is gay no less than straight, God who is poor no less than rich: Call us again to model your holy hospitality. Burn into the very fiber of our being your love for the stranger. Unlock our hearts as we unlock the doors to this church building.

I grew up in two different religions, pentecostal and seventh day Adventist. Never in all my years of forced church attendance have I heard anything close to the words you have written. It renews my faith in Christianity to see that some are focused on a more inclusive concept of God. Thank you for this.