The table is a welcoming place. Everyone likes to eat, and invitations to meals are hard to pass up. In our culture, the emphasis is on eating, rather than on gathering. The plethora of fast food eateries has robbed us of the experience of preparing and gathering at the table. The table means more than eating. It is a place of gathering, sharing, bonding, and, of course, consuming food. In the Bible, times of eating become events of engaging with God and the people of God. There are feasts to celebrate harvest, or to celebrate God’s deliverance of His people, to celebrate a wedding, just to name a few. It isn’t the food that is the most important part of the meal. It is the gathering. This next Sunday, many churches will observe a gathering at the table, the Lord’s table, as it is World Communion Sunday. As we anticipate partaking of communion, I would like to share with you some thoughts about gathering at the table.
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:23-26, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Paul states that this is tradition, or what he received he passes on to them and to us. He first tells us that this is a historical meal, a recollection of what Jesus did with his disciples in the upper room. Their gathering there was to commemorate an important event in Israel’s story, the Passover and ultimate deliverance from bondage. Jesus, as host, infuses the elements of the meal with new meaning. The Israelites on the night of the Passover were to eat unleavened bread, not just because of their release would be in haste, but also because of purity. In order for leaven to be applied to a new batch, bread was allowed to ferment and turn to acid. This was then dissolved in water and added to the new batch to make the bread rise. So leaven was seen as an impurity, which Jesus used to speak of the false teachings of the Pharisees. Earlier in this letter, Paul writes: “ Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5:8) Jesus then says, ‘This is my body, which is for you.’ We recollect his purity and his broken body torn for us. The cup of the Passover meal recalls the blood of the lamb that was applied to the sides and tops of the door frames, signifying these are people of the covenant with God. Jesus says, ‘ This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’ I imagine the disciples sitting there taking it all in, but not understanding it until after Jesus had died and risen. As we partake, we recall this meaningful meal of Jesus and his disciples.
This meal is also an existential experience. Paul writes in the previous chapter: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” That word for participation is the same word translated ‘fellowship’. In communion, these are not mere symbols or elements. By faith these become the body and blood of Christ. These become physical expressions of
spiritual realities. Our partaking brings us into communion with Christ and in fellowship with the body of Christ, the church. It is a meal of unity. That is why Paul scolds the Corinthians for making this time more about eating than about gathering. It is a gathering of people of the new covenant, the body of Christ.
The meal is also an eschatological meal. Eschatology is the study of end times. This becomes a meal of anticipation. Paul’s word are that this meal is a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes. The meal looks forward to the second appearing of Jesus, and to the wedding supper of the Lamb. This meal says to us that in the death of Jesus we have forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life. We don’t eat with sorrow and gloom, but with hope, as we look forward to gathering at the table with Jesus as our host.
This is not a meal we eat on the run, nor is it fast food. It is to be savored, a cup and loaf, a time of recollection, of participation, and of anticipation.
Rev. Andrew Wade is pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Logan and a member of the Logan Ministerial Association.