This Sunday’s scripture is the story of the prodigal son, which most of us are pretty familiar with. But I don’t always pay attention to how Jesus sets up this parable in verses 1-3 of the 15th chapter of Luke:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable:
He then tells the parable, and towards the end, when the son returns, the father says to his servants:
‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
This Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, our church will celebrate Communion. As Methodists, we welcome to the communion table anyone who seeks to respond to Christ’s love and to lead a new life of peace and love. Our Book of Worship says, “All who intend to lead a Christian life, together with their children, are invited to receive the bread and cup. We have no tradition of refusing any who present themselves desiring to receive.” This practice of an “open table” comes from the Methodist understanding of Holy Communion as Christ’s table, not the table of The United Methodist Church or of the local congregation, and the recognition that Holy Communion may be an occasion for the reception of converting, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
Now, we know that the liturgy of The Great Thanksgiving helps us to remember the Passover that Christ shared with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. But in re-reading this week’s parable, I am struck by the father’s overjoyed welcome and embrace of his wayward son*, and how similarly we are welcomed with open arms to the table of Christ each Communion Sunday. God welcomes the wayward, the lost, and the sinners to the table, just as Jesus was criticized for doing in those first verses of Luke 15, to which he responds by telling a parable which ends with a feast for a wayward son- which angers the older brother, who always made sure to follow the rules.
The Methodist practice of an “open table” at communion lets the church live out this welcoming trait of God in our own community and church family. Just as the prodigal son received grace beyond his hopes, we too receive the grace of Christ through communion beyond what we could have hoped for, and beyond what we deserve.
So this week, how can we take this open table from the sanctuary into our daily lives? What would it look like to extend to others the same kind of grace that we receive during communion, grace beyond what they could have hoped for?
*It’s important to be cautious about drawing parallels between us & the prodigal son, and God and the father in the parable. There’s significant scholastic evidence that that parallelism was not the original intent of the parable, nor was it something the Jewish audience of the time would likely have read into the story, even though it’s a very common idea in today’s Christian church. For further readi, I highly recommend Dr. AJ Levine’s book Short Stories by Jesus.