I wonder whether people have given much thought to the role of communion. In particular, how we think that Jesus expected and intended communion to be, and the early church understood it to be, in terms of a widely participatory experience. Specifically, how limited a participating group, and what qualifications required of those who participate, did Jesus and the early church have in mind?
If we think of communion in the sacramental sense, we might say that (a) it is something Jesus told us to do, (b) it's something we physically do (we participate in) and (c) God is particularly present in it, in some special way, when we do so. Hence, we encounter Jesus in it.
It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that the goal of our Services in the Vineyard is that people would encounter Jesus in worship, through the preaching of the word and through ministry. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to come to Jesus and experience Jesus. In all those practices, we maximise inclusivity, seeking that all may experience Jesus in them. And yet, the 'rules' we apply to communion often function in practice in an exclusionary sense rather than an inclusionary sense. Why?
Perhaps it's only because of a concern that people do not approach the communion table unworthily. However, is this really a primary concern of Paul, do we think (still less of Jesus)? In its context of a Pauline epistle to a particular church addressing specific contingencies, are we sure that what Paul said is to be applied as a generic warning to all and, specifically, as a significant deterrent (as it often serves, in practice)? Are we really sure that Paul was not simply speaking about selfishness and social exclusion in the organisation of the love feast in that church?
Participation in communion is two-fold in focus: an identification with Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, and an identification with his Body here and now. Could it be suggested that biblically-speaking we are permitted - indeed, encouraged - to invite all who want to say "yes" to these two understandings to participate in communion?
If the goal of a sacrament such as communion is that we might encounter Jesus, do we not want to maximise the number of those able to do so? Might it have been Jesus' intention in inaugurating communion to be drawing people in, rather than keeping people out? Is not the latter, however, what often happens in practice, due to the filtering we place on those who may participate?
My pastoral observation is that those who are uncertain of their status before God are already unlikely to participate. They self-exclude - more often than they ought to. They need an inclusive and encouraging invitation, rather than an exclusive and discouraging one. Have we perhaps created that negative/fear-centered mindset? Was that really Jesus' intention, or Paul's intention? Have we set a higher bar than they intended?
In the Vineyard we encourage belonging, welcoming and 'including' (come as you are, come and belong, before you believe and 'behave'), especially in relation to experiencing God in our Services and in identifying with the community of his Body. We make experiencing Jesus as accessible as possible. And yet, communion seems to be an exception - the question is whether it ought to be, or whether in fact the opposite should be the case.