The center of fellowship within a home is at the table. Amy and I bought our first house last year, and we began having guests over regularly again (after a certain baby and his accouterments had made entertaining in a cramped apartment impossible!). For invited friends, I’ll spend days preparing and long hours barbecuing a meal to serve them at our table. An unexpected guest or a friend who can “only stay a few minutes” – I’ll invite into my living room. I’ll bring them coffee or tea or water, and we might talk, casually (and superficially) for a while. Though my living room has a fireplace, it’s no longer appropriate to call it a hearth; unlike a century or more ago, no one cooks there anymore.
When we eat with one another, we participate in an intimately human act. The necessity for food is a reminder of common creatureliness. When the food is good, we are reminded of the good provisions that meet our need. When families eat at the table – and distractions are set aside – love for one another deepens through real conversation.
Our Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, sets a table for us at the center of worship. The Bread of Life provides his own body to be our bread. The True Vine provides his own blood to be our wine. Just as our physical bodies are nourished by the tactile, common elements of bread and juice, we are nourished spiritually by the spiritual reality of Jesus’ intimate presence. My body requires something outside of itself for nourishment; my spirit is no different. And Christ provides for my whole soul by feeding me completely.
Years ago, our Pastor Emeritus very wisely moved the pulpit so that the table would be in the center of our sanctuary. Whether we celebrate it on a particular Sunday or not, the Lord’s Supper is the climax and center of our worship. The opening sentences of scripture and prayers call us to the table. The prayers of confession and declaration of forgiveness wash us up for supper. The reading of Scripture and the proclamation of gospel from the pulpit lead us – through both conviction and comfort – to the meal. The hymns keep us joyful as go; the prayers keep us thankfully dependent on our host.
In recent weeks, our Senior Pastor and I have moved our table forward and down to the same level as the congregation. Too often, a communion table in a church will be cluttered with ceremonial items and pushed out of the way. In becoming this, it no longer symbolizes the simple, intimate fellowship of a meal at a family table. It becomes the sanctimonious china cabinet that children dare not touch.
Jesus invites us to touch – and feel and taste. His call to his table goes out to his whole family, young and old. His provision of his body and blood for our food rejects anyone who thinks that they can bring anything to the table he needs. But for the humble, his welcome greets even those who are far off.