I am a member of a Free Methodist church in a city with no shortage of homeless residents. One homeless man in particular—I have yet to learn his name—shows up to worship services occasionally. We celebrate the Eucharist every week, and when he is around, he is among the first to approach the Table after the invitation. Most folks tear off a tiny nibble of bread. He takes a hearty fistful then washes it down with a few drops of juice from one of those tiny plastic cups which are poisoning the bodies of all the animals who accidentally eat them and all who eat the animals who eat them. I want to march this man over to the church kitchen to see how much pasta he and I could eat. I am sure we could eat enough to make my Italian ancestors proud. But he is always gone before I am even out of my seat. He stays only long enough to eat the Eucharist meal.
I spent some time in a Presbyterian church, and the Presbyterians told me there was an order to the sacraments. One had to be baptized before eating the Eucharistic elements; one had to become a member of the community before partaking in the community meal. I believe this is inherited from a long-standing Jewish practice requiring ritual washing before religious feasts; outsiders especially needed to be ritually washed as a rite of entrance into the community before they could eat the community meal. I respect community entrance rites; I love religious rituals and feasts like baptism and Eucharist. But I am not sure there is an order to the sacraments, nor one which opens access to the others.
The Apostles Paul and Peter invited Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus to join the community of Jews who wanted to follow Jesus. After some debate with the Pharisees in Jerusalem, Paul and Peter determined that Gentiles do not need to become Jews through circumcision to join this community (Acts 15; Ephesians 3:6). Similarly, after some debate, Peter determined that Gentiles do not need to become Jews through dietary customs to join this community (Acts 11). Worshipful activities—such as the Eucharist—do not appear to be hidden behind other worshipful activities—like baptism.
Should the homeless worshipper have to be baptized—ritually washed—to join the Christian community before partaking in the feast? Must he participate in Christianized entrance rites before participating in any other community activities? I do not think so. I do not think those who hunger to meet Jesus need to become Christians through baptism to join in the celebration of the Eucharist. Let the hungry eat; let the thirsty drink.
Grace abounds in the Eucharist. In the bread and wine, we meet Jesus. In eating the bread and drinking the wine, Jesus’s body and our bodies become one body. I am not a gatekeeper to the community holding this feast. I am just another member of the one body. And I am hungry and thirsty. And I will not put anything between Jesus and the one who wants to eat the grace of God.
Here is a poem related to this reflection.