Friday, June 17, 2016

With Whom Shall We Eat?

Liturgy 31, no. 3, guest-edited by Martha Moore-Keish, explored the latest scholarly work on issues related to holy communion.

Marianne Moyaert, a professor of comparative theology, used her essay to probe the current fascination with a completely “open table” for Eucharist. In this section, she lays out the arguments in favor of this form of meal hospitality. In the next section (July 8), you will find her reasons for concluding as she does, that the Christian church has to think deeply about the meaning of eating together.

Proponents of an open Eucharist argue that such an open, inclusivist theology with its image of deep communion should find liturgical translation. A too-narrow interpretation of the Eucharist, which sets up borders for outsiders, would contradict the universal scope of God’s outreach. Why not think of the Eucharist as a meeting point between the followers of different religions, where all express their experience of God’s divine self-giving? Eating and drinking together could be a way to witness to the measureless generosity of God. . . 
 Those in favor of an open table also take issue with the way the Eucharist has often functioned as an identity marker, excluding people rather than welcoming them. If nothing else, such exclusionary mechanisms are in conflict with Jesus’ earthly life, which as a whole gives meaning to the Eucharist. Jesus’ message was one of salvation and healing, and he demonstrated this in his interactions with people on the margins of society: the poor, the weak, the strangers. His actions were groundbreaking and directed at building up solidarity with the marginalized. . . . 
 Although Eucharistic hospitality is undergirded by strong theological arguments, there are questions to be asked to further theological debate on Eucharistic hospitality and its limits:
  • Was Jesus’ table fellowship really one of radical hospitality?  
  • Does Eucharist hospitality do sufficient justice to Christian self-understanding?  
  • What problems does the religious other face when performing a ritual that belongs to the heart of Christian tradition? . . . .
Grounding the practice of Eucharistic hospitality in Jesus’ earthly life is less self-evident than sometimes assumed. Though I would not dispute the radicalness of his earthly mission, there is little exegetical evidence that Jesus, the Jew, actually ate with gentiles. . . . To be sure, in the story of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus does allow himself to be questioned and challenged by her. There is no evidence, however, that he actually dined with her. . . .
The fact that Jesus’ earthly mission of radical hospitality most likely did not include table fellowship with gentiles does not, however, render the practice of Eucharistic hospitality illegitimate. History shows that the way churches have come to understand their mission is not a mere imitation of how Jesus seems to have understood his. Nevertheless, when we consider the theological viability of Eucharistic hospitality we ought to take into account both his radical openness and the fact that his religious identity did create limits to his commensality. Is it perhaps possible that, in order to be a radical host to those at the margins of society, one also needs to be a part of a community with certain restrictions and boundaries? Maybe human beings need such a bounded community, a safe haven where we can temporarily suspend our mission for radical hospitality and find a moment to resource. Maybe such resourcing in the home community is precisely what enables Christians to resume their mission patterned after Jesus’ example.
We will return to more of Moyaert’s conclusions on July 8. See her full essay for much more detailed discussion and for the extensive references she includes.

Marianne Moyaert, professor of comparative theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands, is the author of In Response to the Religious Other (2014) and the editor, with Joris Geldhof, of Interreligious Dialogue and Ritual Participation (2015).

Marianne Moyaert, “Relgious Pluralism and Eucharistic Hospitality,” Liturgy 31, no. 3 (2016), 46-56.

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