Monday, November 24, 2014

Coming Together around the Table

Every congregation has one. Since the very beginning, every congregation has had one. A Table. Some of them are old and rugged looking. Others are elaborate and covered with gold! Some stand at a place of prominence in the front of the room. Others remain hidden from full view. But, in the end, they all serve the same purpose. With the table of the Lord is an invitation. An invitation to the world, come and eat with the King, come and eat with each other! The table has been the great equalizer throughout history. At the same table, tax collectors and zealots have sat together. At the same table, the Savior of the world and His betrayer have sat together. At the same table, Jews and Gentiles have sat together. At the same table, Protestants and Catholics have sat together.

In the early 19th century, there were two men, Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone; these two men were the leaders of two fledgling Christian revival movements. They shared almost nothing in common. One was a Trinitarian; the other was not. One was a Premillennialist; the other was not. They disagreed on nearly every major theological question of history. Yet, somehow, by the grace of God, they united. On a Sunday in 1832, these two movements became one, and they did it around the table. Their first act of unity was to join together around the table. I believe that is what God intended for the table to be, a gathering place for his people. A place where we can put differences behind us, a place where we can allow the walls between us to fall away. But one of the great tragedies of history is that God’s people have not always allowed the power of the table to come into the community. And on occasion, we have even allowed the table to become the source of our division, and, apparently, this great tragedy began at an early date…
Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come. (I Corinthians 11:17–34, NRSV)
The meal the Corinthians were eating was not the Lord’s Supper. In their meal, only those who arrived first could eat, probably the most wealthy. In their meal, some were left out. In their meal, there were seats of honor and places in the corner. In their meal, they ignored the body. If you read quickly, you will miss it. The word “Body” in these verses, in fact, has a double meaning.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

Paul says, when you eat this meal, you should not fail to recognize the body of Christ (Jesus). But in the same language, he also says, “When you eat this meal, you should not fail to recognize the body of Christ” (the church) for that was their great mistake. They were not recognizing the body. They had allowed this meal, this table, to become a place of division, not unity.

This week, all around our nation, people will gather around large banquet tables. Mothers and fathers will welcome children home from college. Some families will welcome new members to their table this year, a new child born in the past 12 months, or, a wedding that has taken place in the past year. The Thanksgiving table will force some family members to come into the same room with each other this week. There may have been bitterness in the past. Harsh words may have been said. Silence may have followed. But this holiday, and the Table, has forced them to set aside their bitterness and sit shoulder to shoulder. The Table has a way of healing wounds, if we will let it.

My prayer is that the same may be said about the Table of the Lord. Church, gathered at the same table this morning are rich and poor. At the same table are young and old. At the same table are young, struggling parents and old veteran grandparents. At the same table are those who love praise teams and those who love the traditional song services. At the same table are those who love videos and technology and those would love it if everything just quit working this morning! At the same table are those who believe women should lead in a more public way in our services and those who do not. At the same table are those who would love to worship with instruments and those who would never do such a thing.

At one table this morning are God’s people. Each of us different, all of us sinners, yet, all of us One, and all of us saved by the blood of our Lord. And for that, appropriately on this weekend, we give Thanks around the Table of the Lord.

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