Reflections on Come to the Table -- No. 1
I have often been asked, and was recently asked by a friend, to reflect on my book "Come to the Table"--what would have I said differently, what would I emphasize now, and what is my vision for the Supper in the contemporary church. So, I will take this month to offer some occasional reflections.
"If I had it MY way..."
My wish-list for restoring table in our churches. If I had control (which I don't, and which I don't want since the table should be communal rather than dictatorial), I would seek out #1, but if I can't do #1, then #2, and if not #2, then at least #3, and if not #3, then I can at least get away with #4, and no doubt #5. :-) But even if there is no change--nothing of what I would like to see--my heart can still rejoice in the living Christ at his table, even in the most traditional of services.
But here is "my way" (forgive me, Sinatra).
1. Restore the Meal! Nothing will invest the table of the Lord with tableness more than a meal--a meal in honor, in memory (remembering) and in thanskgiving for Jesus. The meal would restore the interaction and horizontal communion of the table. It can no longer be silent, solemn, but joyous and engaging. It is not a funerary memorial, but thanksgiving meal celebrating our salvation through the gospel (the death and resurrection of Jesus). But a meal is difficult with our architecture, and problematic for implementation for logistical reasons. Thus, I like the model of Acts 2 as perhaps one way of have the best of both worlds: general assembly in the temple for teaching/prayer/praise and then in the home for breaking bread/praise. I am not, however, advocating the loss of the Lord’s Supper in the general assembly in the contemporary church. It can be in both assembly and small groups. This might actually enrich our experience of the Supper.
2. Restore the Table! Get around a table, even if we only have bread and wine. The literal table will produce the atmosphere of table--interaction and communion. Gather around standing, or gather at the table sitting. It doesn't matter; at least we will not be looking at the back of each other's heads.
3. Restore the Communal Dimension! If we cannot gather around a table where the communal dimension will occur naturally, we can at least restore the communal dimension through corporate prayers, corporate reading of Scripture, congregational singing, encouraging people to prayer with each other, encouraging each other by verbal interaction, etc. as they eat. This can be partly accomplished by getting people out of their seats to commune. Invite people to come to the elements instead of bringing the elements to them. As people go to the elements, they will interact with each other—hugging, greeting, encouraging each other.
4. Restore the Mood! If nothing else, restore the joy of tableness to the Lord's Supper as a thanksgiving in the presence of the living Christ. This a heart-change and a paradigmn shift in the minds of people. This is where we must begin, of course. We need to teach a new vision of the table as one of joy rather than a funerary atmosphere that is wholly located in some kind of mere memorialism.
5. Restore the Vision! None of the above is possible without this--a renewed theological vision of the table as communal fellowship with the risen Christ. I recommend teaching...teaching...teaching...and experimentation....and different experiences in different settings....teaching, teaching, and did I say teaching, etc. The vision must change in order to fully implement 1-4, but even if 1-4 are never implemented, a renewed vision and theological understanding will enable people to experience the supper in significant ways, even if it is only hidden in their own heart. Even in the most traditional service, I can smile as my heart thinks about the living Christ in my presence and Joshua at my side.
How do we begin to implement some of these points?
In general, I would suggest....
....begin slowly--pray, teach, discuss
....begin small--little things, in small groups, in different settings than the pews
....stay inclusive--understand that there are multiple dimensions to the supper and multiple perspectives, utilize all perspectives and give voice to all persuasions.
....stay united--don't divide with what should unite, be sensitive to years of tradition and practice, understand how many find their piety in this moment and how central it is to them
….. progress toward the goal of experiencing God and each other at the table; this is the main thing—a communal experience of Jesus’ grace and love as we share that love and grace with each other.