Worship in Afghanistan started off on a rocky foot. If my first service here had been a Catholic mass, I would have expected exclusion from the Holy meal. I would have gladly honored this tradition. As far as I understood, walking into the liturgical Protestant service, Presbyterians and Lutherans, as well as other mainline Protestant denominations, shared the communion table. I guess I slept through a few days of Church History. I was shocked when the first thing the chaplain said upon my entering the chapel was that I was not welcome to join in communion. If I wanted a blessing, he would give one to me, but otherwise, I should not come forward. I told him not to worry. I would be staying in my seat. The last thing I wanted was his blessing.
After a few moments of fuming to myself and thinking thoughts not fitting of a worship service, I wondered what Jesus would do. Would he go up and ask for a blessing? Would he sit there peacefully chanting a “counter” prayer under his breath? Would he have walked out, making a statement, refusing to be a part of something that marginalizes neighbors? I was fairly certain that Jesus would find a way to be generous even while pointing out a dissonance. Even Judas, his betrayer, ate bread and drank wine with Jesus at that first Eucharistic table.
As I sat in my seat, looking from a distance at the bread and wine, a sense of gratitude bubbled up inside of me. Today, I would not taste but only see at an arms length. Yet, it was valuable to feel excluded. Growing up in the church, knowing the joy and warmth of the best of what the church offers as a faith community, I have never felt apart from it. I wonder how many people each day look longingly at God’s table, but never feel welcome to sit down and join in the feast?
In this particular space, where there is so much that keeps us apart, religion, nationality, weapons, walls, and concertina wire to name a few things, it will take significant imagination to find ways to share God’s holy table. But, even after a challenging beginning, I am still hopeful that it is possible. Even when we can’t find the way ourselves, God is preparing this table for us. I am just thankful that God’s invitation extends way beyond me and my ideas of who is welcome, as well as my chaplain collegues, to places and people that I cannot fathom, into jail cells and behind prison walls, and even beyond that. Thanks be to God.