by Elizabeth Hunter—

A few years ago an artist known as JR created a one day art installation in the most unlikely of places—the U.S.-Mexico border. The artwork, a huge table illustrated with a human gaze—one life-like eye on each side of the border—brought divided people together to sit and share a meal. “Around the eye of a dreamer,” JR said, “we forgot the wall for a minute…”

I googled this image again after a Women of the ELCA group returned from a February 2020 border immersion experience with migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and those who care for them. One participant, Café magazine editor Elizabeth McBride, said that, “as Christians, we must see Jesus in every person who crosses our border. Children are being separated from their families, and they’re sitting in a private prison with little concept of what is happening to them. Women are raped and abused while trying to flee to safety.” The accounts were harrowing and heart-breaking.

Which brings me back to the bird’s-eye image of that table. It wasn’t just a pretty meme to be shared or tweeted. It looked more like what Susan Sparks calls (p. 28) one of Jesus’ “wild paradoxes: the kingdom of God and a mustard seed; the weakest as the greatest; a banquet table where the honored guests were tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.”

It looked remarkably like the Lord’s Table—a gift, as familiar as breathing, and something I’ve too often taken for granted.

I’ve begun to notice the nerve—the sheer daring of the Lord’s Table. I’ve heard the invitation issued passionately—as though it matters more than anything— along with the words, “All are welcome.” In “open communion” congregations across the land, we live out the truth that everyone belongs, defying a world that is so divided it lacks even Christian unity. At the Lord’s Table, we find ourselves, not just welcomed, but called to participate with Christ in healing our deeply broken world. And this is exactly what Jesus intended.

“Plenty good room” devotional author Angela T. Khabeb calls us (p. 22) “to examine the differences between being welcoming and being inclusive.”

Being welcoming is so important. But it’s a first step. A very welcome guest is still a guest. We must be included to belong. Khabeb shares Scripture and stories to help us broaden our ideas of who and how we welcome.

When Lutherans welcome, for example, it helps to understand that “Lutheranism didn’t spring from a solid cultural or national identity,” as Karris A. Golden writes (p. 32). Our Lutheran faith tradition “came from people learning, discussing, praying, gathering and growing.” That tradition continues, as Julie A. Kanarr describes (p. 14) when God transforms “a class about prayer to a community of pray-ers.”

It’s kind of like being on a basketball team. When this issue went to print, the NCAA college basketball tournament was about to begin. Blame it on March Madness, but I couldn’t help thinking of how Jesus came to reconcile us to God and each other, in basketball terms. When Jesus asks what we are looking for, Jesus is ready to sign us on and nurture our gifts. When Jesus says, “Come and see,” no one is locked out of the game. No one watches from the stands. No one warms the bench. Jesus put you, me and everyone in the actual game. All are welcome. All belong.

Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.

This article is from the May 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.