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 comes 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 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, and 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 (a uniting 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 itself to become the source of our division. And, apparently, this great tragedy began at an early date.
Now I don’t praise you as I give the following instruction because when you meet together, it does more harm than good. First of all, when you meet together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it. It’s necessary that there are groups among you, to make it clear who is genuine. So when you get together in one place, it isn’t to eat the Lord’s meal. Each of you goes ahead and eats a private meal. One person goes hungry while another is drunk. Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on God’s churches and humiliate those who have nothing? What can I say to you? Will I praise you? No, I don’t praise you in this.
I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.
This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood. Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way. Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment. Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died. But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. However, we are disciplined by the Lord when we are judged so that we won’t be judged and condemned along with the whole world. For these reasons, my brothers and sisters, when you get together to eat, wait for each other. If some of you are hungry, they should eat at home so that getting together doesn’t lead to judgment. I will give directions about the other things when I come. (I Corinthians 11:17–34 CEB)The meal the Corinthians were eating was not the Lord’s Supper. Because 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.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (I Corinthians 17:27)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.
When I envisioned this series several months ago, I intentionally decided to place this text here, after my sermon on chapter 14. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve preached on a somewhat controversial topic. And I know not everyone agrees with one another on that topic, or many others. But I thought it appropriate to gather here in a special way on this Sunday to spend a little more time reflecting on the meaning of the table. 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 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! 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—all of us different, all of us sinners. Yet, in spite of our differences, all of us are One Family 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.