The Open Table

I read an article in the online version of The Christian Century in which an Episcopalian (American Anglican) theologian named Charles Hefling discussed the meaning of “open communion”.
Based on Hefling’s thoughts, I would say that my own theology with regard to this sacrament is summed up in the term “open table”, which means that when I issue the invitation, it is totally inclusive, and usually goes something like this:
“At Trinity United Church we believe that this table, and what we share here does not belong to us. It all belongs to God, and is for God’s people. It does not matter to us if you belong to this church or any other church. You do not have to believe the same things we do, or even know exactly what you believe. The only qualification, if that is the right word, for sharing in the food and drink that comes from this table is that you have a hunger, a thirst in your life for God. At the same time, you are absolutely free to not receive communion. “
I wrote this quick comment on The Christian Century blog page after reading the article:
I looked out from an 8th floor balcony this afternoon, at a mist-kissed canopy of trees over a creek valley that runs through the neighbourhood near my church. I was visiting with the two wonderful women, sisters who share that apartment, and who shared the view with me. It was a brilliant sunny fall afternoon, and the beauty I was gifted with had for me, a deeply sacramental nature. God the creator is present in this world. The Spirit is present in this world, and is alive. Christ was present in the visit I had with these two strong, faithful women. I noted that the only fences limiting access to the trees, to the creek valley I was looking at, are human made. As the pastor, and celebrant at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, I am grateful that we have a totally open table.

Hope Peace Joy Love

                      Hope Peace Joy Love

Traditionally there is a “theme” for each of the four weeks of the Advent season. We often hear the themes mentioned as the candles of the Advent Wreath are lit.  A few weeks ago I sat with two other United Church ministers for the first meeting of our Contemplative Liturgy Project.  Our hope is to create new worship materials that encourage and make space for awe, and wonder, and silence.  Together we prayerfully read the scriptures for the weeks of Advent. We crafted calls to worship based on the readings. 


As I reflected on the scripture selections, seeking ways to connect them to the candle-lighting themes, it occurred to me that the biblical understanding of these words is more nuanced, and has greater depth than the ways these words are used outside a faith context. These are powerful words, worthy of us slowing down, and taking time to reflect on their spiritual meaning. For this Advent season, I offer you the following spiritual exercises, intended to help us to live more fully into the meaning of each week’s theme.


Hope  (December 2-8 ) This week, commit a hopeful piece of scripture to memory, and say it to yourself during the day as an ongoing prayer.  Here are two possible scriptures, from the Sunday readings:

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 25:1)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)


Peace (December 9-15 ) Make an appointment with yourself (and perhaps with a friend)  to go for an early morning prayer walk, outside if you can manage it!  Think about this line of scripture as you walk:

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)


Joy (December 9-15 ) The children’s song Magic Penny  says “Joy is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” Gratitude for life, and generosity towards others are signs that joy is flowing through us. Here are two things to do this week, to prime the pump of spiritual joy:

“Give thanks to the Lord” (Isaiah 12:4) Make a list each day of three things for which you are grateful to God.

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)

Each day this week choose one of your possessions that would be of use to someone else, and give it away.


Love (December 16-22) “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:41-42)


Elizabeth’s response to the arrival of her younger cousin is visceral- she is moved from the core of her being. The scripture describes her as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Love is an animating, life-giving flow of energy from God. Take time to remember the people in your life that you love dearly. Remember especially those who have died, and are now safely held by God. Imagine God’s love flowing through you, towards them. Imagine God’s love flowing through their hearts, towards you. Let the feeling of love flowing be your prayer for those most dear to you. Give thanks for these people who mean, and have meant so much to you. Ask God to bless them.


The season of Advent offers us an opportunity to grow as faithful people. As we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we can also take time in our days and weeks to allow something new to be born in us. We can actively seek to make of our heart a place for the Holy One to be born.