When I was growing up on the high plains of Texas, my family attended a large Disciples congregation. The sanctuary seated more than 500 people on the ground floor. There was a huge chancel, massive stained glass windows and cavernous space.
In the rear of the sanctuary, up above was a large choir loft with capacity for a large choir that was intended to be heard and not seen.
It was there on the Sunday mornings of my youth, that I sat with my friends in the youth choir, not because of any clear vocal talent, but because it was where youth sat to pass notes, be with each other move through the service largely disconnected from what was happening down below and far away until that moment when we were to be heard, if not seen. It was as if we were observing something but not a part. Such was the distance.
Some years later I returned to that sanctuary for my ordination. I was surrounded by a chorus of “who would have thoughts” from those same youth friends, former SS teachers, family and the like. Almost no one, including me, saw it coming.
I was invited to preside at the table and I remember looking up at the choir loft…It still seemed so far away and I wondered. “How did I get from that place to here from a youth who could sing by accident every part in a single song, to celebrant at the table? It was such a distance.
The questioning of that day has served as an ongoing wondering and challenge throughout more than 30 years of ministry.
“How does one bridge that gulf in time, space, reality, relationship, understanding acceptance or rejection, pain, judgments, discounting, hurt or disconnection …and the table where all are called, fed and apart?
For me the distance was not all that difficult to bridge, it came on a path built by the ministries of many before me and other mentors along the way.
But I have become increasingly aware that the distance is certainly farther, its chasms made deeper by the pains of hurt, rejection and judgment. Certainly it is so for many members of the LGBTIQ communities and for others discounted or judged by society and church. The chasm often is deeper and the gap between the individual and the beloved community is so much greater.
But, when I stood behind that table many years ago now I was reminded of something that has become increasingly clear to me over these years of ministry;
I am not the one who creates the bridge between the table and where any of us are.
Rather it is the table itself that bridges all of the distances that separate us from the love of God and one another.
The bridge is always as wide as the table and as long as each of who would come.
That the distance is bridged in the offering of the words, the blessings of the bread and cup, the reminder that THIS IS… THIS IS A NEW COVENANT IN MY BLOOD
It is in the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup, the offering of the words that we are aware that “if there is any bridge in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) between the places that we are and the people that we are and who we are called to be as the community of God”, it is here at the table.
THE CALLING IS FOR THE CHURCH TO LIVE UP TO THE TABLE AND TO BE THE BODY OF CHRIST THAT IS A BRIDGE TO ALL WHO LONG TO BE A PART OF THE COMMUNITY OF JOY, GATHERED AT THE TABLE.
FOR WE ARE ALL AT ONCE THOSE WHO NEED THE BRIDGE AND THOUGH THE CALLING AS THE BODY OF CHRIST BECOME THAT BRIDGE.
As Disciples we talk about and know ourselves as a covenantal church “we rejoice in God’s Covenant of love, which binds us to God and one another” and we have affirmed that we are a bridge church linking people from different theological and denominational backgrounds and cultures.
But the call for Disciples is to be not only a Bridge Church for persons from different theological and denominational understandings but for something more
If what is celebrated at the table is a new covenant in God’s love in Christ that truly binds us to God and one another, then it calls for the table to be a bridge which is meant to be stretched out through the life and mission of the church and world
We need then as Disciples to proclaim:
There is no covenant of love between God and any of us that does not include covenant of love with all others.
There is no bridge to the table of the Lord that is not a bridge for all.
THE TABLE CALLS US AS DISCIPLES TO TRULY BECOME THAT BRIDGE THAT ENBODIES THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHIRST, ENABLING EACH OF US VARIED, DIFFERENT, TO COME TO THE TABLE AND TO BE A WITNESS AND WAY FOR ALL TO FIND THE RECONCILING BANQUET OF CHRIST’S LOVE AT THE TABLE.
WHAT IF WE AS DISCIPLES TAKE OUR PLACE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST, AND BECOME A BRIDGE CHURCH OF THE TABLE TO WHICH All ARE CALLED TO RECEIVE AND CELEBRATE AT THE LORDS TABLE, REGARDLESS OF BACKGROUND, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, LANGUAGE, CULTURE OF OPPORTUNITY..
It seems to me that our call in this time might be uniquely to serve as that bridge for so many people in our communities who are searching for that kind of “connection” to God’s community.
Within the past two years three new congregations in Arizona have become Open & Affirming congregations. .
As they have taken those steps, it became not only an acknowledgement of the love of God and community which would affirm and welcome LGBTIQ persons, but in so doing it also proclaimed something more.
What has been even more encouraging and a witness to the resurrection is that in each case this affirmation came not only as an invitation to LGBTIQ communities but to so many others who were looking for a church that affirmed this kind of table. People came who were searching for a church building these bridges of wholeness and care.
We live today in the Easter season and there is no greater word nor calling than the Easter Good News that nothing can create a separation, disconnection, too great a distance between the love and life and new calling of God and each of us. May we live this out as church?