Come to the Table
When we redesigned our auditorium, we made two changes. First, we replaced our pews with chairs (the pews were sold to a church wrecked during Katrina). The chairs have been a much more efficient and flexible use of our limited space. As I write this, our auditorium is configured as a banquet hall in preparation for a special event; pews make that unhandy. Second, we got rid of the communion table up front to save space. We still have communion each week; we just serve it from a table in the back. That does makes the phrase we often use before communion awkward, “We gather around the table today…” But that phrase should have always seemed awkward. We never really gathered around the table. We sat in our pews (or chairs) while men in coats and ties awkwardly gathered around the table. We call communion a “supper” or “meal,” but it has never really been that. It is rather more of a formalized ritual where we remember the cross while silently taking a “pinch and a sip” of unleavened bread and juice. It’s never been communal, something shared together. It is rather something that we basically do alone.. together. We had a mini-bruhaha when we started singing a song during the passing of the cup.
The Lord’s Supper was originally a meal. We know from Corinthians, Peter and Jude that the early church had a “love feast,” a meal together as a prelude to communion. In the first century, the Lord’s Supper was literally gathering around a table as the church shared a family meal. The Supper was a declaration of unity as well as a reminder of the cross. That’s why Paul is so upset in 1 Corinthians 11 when the wealthy are eating and drinking much while ignoring those who have nothing.
When communion is a meal around a table, then a lot of the issues we have argued about over the years just go away. Who is it that can eat communion—members only, guests, children? At a meal, everyone is invited to eat. Who can talk at the meal—an elder, deacon, any male member? Around a table, everyone talks and shares; no one is in charge. Who can pass the trays—deacons, baptized boys, women? Around the table, everyone passes everything; that’s how you share a meal.
When communion was around a table, it was about unity and love. When we come to see it as an “altar,” then what matters is what is offered, who offers it, and how it is offered. The invitation to the Lord’s Supper is to eat and drink with Christ and his people as we thank him and remember. So… come to the table!