Everyone Is Welcome Here: A Reflection on the Impractical Politics of Communion
But C'mon, Not Everyone
On Saturday, February 4, Libbey and I joined a few thousand others in front of the Greek Ampitheater on the south side of downtown Denver's Civic Center Park.
As we walked toward the crowd swelling in solidarity with our Muslim and refugee neighbors, I looked down and reread the sign in my hand: No Hate, No Fear. Everyone is Welcome Here.
It was my favorite chant from the Women's March two weeks earlier, but spoken in this context -- swirling with debate on immigrants, refugees, and terrorists -- I asked myself again, "Do I really mean that? Or am I caught up in the current, repeating phrases that don't square with my convictions?"
I've thought a good deal about the power of fear, its ties to hate, and it's ability to block love over the past few months, and plan to write fairly in depth on that subject in future posts. But at a basic level, being against hate and fear...not particularly controversial.
Ok, sign's first phrase looks good. Check.
Where I got caught up, where most of us get caught up, was the first word of the second sentence: everyone.
If we're serious about that word and not escaping reality to some liberal la-la-land where "everyone" is a great person, then "everyone" includes terrorists. It even includes our president's often cited "rapists and murders." They may not exist in the hoards described in political rhetoric, but that is the painful reality of everyone: some people really are scary people bent on doing harm.
Some members of "everyone" inevitably loop us back one word on my sign, returning us to fear. And fear tends to lead to exclusion and hate.
In my moment of uncertainty, there loomed an inherent contradiction between openness to everyone, on one hand, and freedom from fear on the other. But these are the only meaningful words on my sign.
Where is Here?
Politics always relate to a place. You can't have rules without some jurisdiction in which they're applied. When we say, "everyone is welcome here," our imagination fills in the blank with a place: the US, my state, my house. The dominant place that pops in our minds when we think about our politics probably is the same place we connect our identity to: I am an American or an Iraqi, I am a Texan or a Coloradan, I am from this neighborhood not that neighborhood.
With many of these places, I genuinely struggle to say literally everyone is welcome.
But I would like to suggest that as Christians, our primary identities and political convictions should be tied to a different place. And of that place, I can enthusiastically declare to everyone: you are welcome here!
Right after Paul explains the nature of salvation flowing from God's grace and leading to good works, he goes on in Ephesians 2 to make a political point. "You," referring to Gentiles, were once "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise." (2:12)
What flows from the grace of God turns out to be a radical political reordering:
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (2:13-14)
FYI - this isn't just spiritual heart-talk. These Jews and Gentiles legitimately hated each other and had all sorts of laws that kept them physically separated from each other. Paul goes on to say, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God." (2:19)
Note the language he used: they were "brought near by the blood of Christ," and made one "in his flesh." These are the words of communion. The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.
Not all choose to come, but all are welcome around the communion table of Jesus.
As Christians, our primary place of orientation is not the US or any other nation. It is the Eucharist where we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, where we find ourselves just as in need of the love of God as every other person on this planet, and where all are equally welcome.
We are freed of hate at the table, because -- without negating our differences -- we are united as humans created in the image of God, and dependent on God for life. Like the Jews, we find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with people we once despised.
We are freed of fear at the table because Christ has overcome the power of death. As the book of Hebrews says, Jesus' sacrifice has freed "those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death" (2:15). We can follow the angels' urging to "not be afraid," because "perfect love casts out fear."
As Christians, our politics begin around the table set with bread and wine. But the ethic we find there cannot be held at the table, cloistered at church, or locked in our hearts. It extends outwards from the body and blood to the world. It's hard to compartmentalize or rationalize away the politics of a man who knowingly held convictions that led to his death. The politics of communion are impractical, unreasonable, and downright dangerous. But they are affirmed by the empty tomb. And they are ours.