Christ invites the unbaptized to receive the gift of grace in communion.
In 1997 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a statement on the practice of word and sacrament. In The Use of the Means of Grace, principle No. 37 states: "Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the church to those who are baptized."
When they brought the paralytic to the feet of Jesus, "he saw their faith" and the man's sins were forgiven and he was healed. In all of the biblical accounts, I see no reference to Jesus asking for something in advance of when he heals, feeds the 5,000 or performs other miracles. To the lepers, Jesus didn't say, "I'll heal you if you come back to thank me."
When we read the biblical stories of his ministry, we see Jesus touching the lives of people through grace and compassion. Jesus touched them. Although not one of them was baptized, Jesus wanted them to touch him.
If the word from the pulpit is "God's unconditional love," then how can the pastor move from the pulpit to the communion rail and put a condition on that love? Is it for the sake of order? Does the pastor need to protect God in some way?
If God's love is truly inclusive, why would we exclude someone who wants to come and taste and smell God's love in the bread and wine? Would Jesus give his body and blood to anyone who reaches out to touch him?
An 83-year-old woman was baptized one Sunday. She came to the font with her walker and sat on a chair for her baptism. When asked, "Why now, after 83 years?" she responded, "Because I've never been invited like this." She had been receiving communion. This was the first of six adult baptisms, with the same kind of story.
Children as young as 3 years old are prepared for receiving communion and do receive. After her first communion, a little girl said to her mother, "I don't ever want to miss church again."
The invitation should be open, unconditional and inclusive. Jesus would want it that way.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers