The Family Table
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I wonder what your experience of family reunions is. I come from a rather extended family, particularly on my mom’s side here in Canada. There was a time for a few years from around 2001 on that my extended family endeavoured to get together once/year. We were finding like many families that we were only getting together for weddings and funerals. This is ok -better than nothing for sure – but it felt a little strange to be catching up at a funeral. We rotated through hosts and kept it going for a number of years.
Wouldn’t we love a family reunion right about now? In certain places, they’re a really big deal. I remember being in Delaware at Rehoboth Beach and seeing groups of people walking around with t-shirts that said “Walker Family Reunion”. I thought “How great! Not only are they getting together but they’re marking the occasion with t-shirts!” I know these can be large multi-day affairs full of celebrating and eating and catching up and reminiscing.
Remembering. And I think “How great.”
Along with my thing for family reunions (which is maybe pretty common) I have to tell you I have a thing for family tables. Literal tables. I suppose I’m pretty sentimental. When my mom was moving out of our family house after my dad died she gave me the family dining room table (with apologies to my brothers here). When she asked why I wanted it I told her “It’s our family table!” like that said it all. Which it did. To me that said it all.
After my mom’s latest move (she’s moved with my brother Robert and his wife Beth just outside Trenton) I acquired another table that had been in my family for quite some time. Just a little breakfast table that folds up. I remember it in my oldest brother George’s house in this breakfast nook he and his wife Isabel had off their kitchen in west Toronto. I remember it in my first apartment – a bachelor in a three-story walk-up on Macpherson – my sole table as I was starting out. It’s in our basement now.
Family reunions and family tables. No matter what your family of origin, as a follower of Christ you are adopted into the family of God, family. This is our family table. This is the table around which we are called to come together. To unite.
To say Paul is concerned about the Lord’s supper at Corinth would be an understatement. Last week we heard Paul commend the church because they maintained the traditions just as he handed the traditions onto them. There was just that one thing. Here Paul says that in the following instructions he does not commend them! He says things like “What!” He says things like “To some extent I believe it” – in other words “I can hardly believe it!” What is going on? Let’s ask for God’s help as we dwell on His word and prepare to come around our family table.
From the days of Wrong Way Reigels we’ve been talking about how the church in Corinth was going the wrong way. How their wrongwayedness gives us pause to reflect on ourselves and our church. You’ll remember Roy Reigels was doing something that seemed good – recover the fumble and run toward the end zone – excellent. The problem was of course he was running toward his own end zone…
When you come together, Paul writes in v 17. When you come together as a church in v 18. When you come together in v 20. When you come together in v 33 and when you come together in v 34. Coming together is a good thing. It has the same meaning for Paul as it does for us. Coming together. Getting together. Also coming together. Uniting. Being as one. The bread that we break, is it not our sharing in the body of Christ? The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not our fellowship in the blood of Christ? These are the words he wrote in chapter 10 and we’ll hear them again in a little while. Paul goes on – Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The whole idea of coming together here is being lost and it’s being lost at the very place it should mean the most. What is happening? First of all we need to make a distinction between the Lord’s supper (or communion of Eucharist as it’s known) and the meal that the Corinthian church was sharing here. There is another early church tradition known as the agape meal or love feast which was more of a potluck type of situation. Paul is not making any kind of distinction here. He’s talking about a time of getting together and eating which includes the sharing of the cup and the sharing of the bread. These were gatherings that would have met in houses large enough to host them. Here was the thing. In a Roman house there would be a dining area that might have held up to around 10 people. For someone putting on a dinner, it would have been the place for their socio-economic peers. If you think this is odd, think of it as like the first-class section on an airplane – they put a curtain up and everything so that those in cabin class can’t even see what’s going on. The remainder of the people would have been further removed. It wasn’t considered bad manners at all to reserve the best food and wine for the most honoured guests. In fact it was considered good economic practice. Listen to this letter from Pliny the Elder – “The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company. He had even put the wine into tiny little flasks, divided into three categories, not with the idea of giving his guests the opportunity of choosing, but to make it impossible for them to refuse what they were given. One lot was intended for himself and for us, one for his lesser friends (all his friends are graded), and the third for his and our freedmen.” Freedmen are ex-slaves.
Which made up part of the church. Freedmen. Freedwomen. Slaves. All part of the body of Christ. All adopted into the family. In this matter, Paul writes, I do not commend you.
Paul makes no appeal to common sense or even some sort of common morality. We remember him telling the church at Corinth “nothing beyond what is written.” He received from the Lord what he had handed over to them. On the night that Jesus was handed over (or betrayed – the words means both here). This was not a glitch in God’s plan, this was God’s plan being enacted. He took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke it saying “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.” A whole new way of relating to God, of living in communion with God has come about. A whole new way of relating to one another has come about. We are no longer to relate to one another based on socio-economic stratification or interest or age or…. Because we are a family around our family table with Christ. Our head. What kind of head is Christ? The one we read about in John 13. The one who washed his followers feet and told them that servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things you are blessed if you do them.
Are we servants of Christ? Then we’re called to remember. To bring to mind. To bring to heart. To bring to the centre of our being. We gather around this table and it’s like acting out a parable. It’s like a statement of faith without words. In doing so we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes. The same way the people of the first covenant were to remember their deliverance from Egypt, we are to remember our deliverance from sin and death. In the same way the Paul told the people of Corinth that he came among them desiring to know nothing but Christ and him crucified, we are to remember that we have been saved through our Lord who emptied himself of all but love and gave himself for the sake of the world.
Which would hardly mean grading our friends, much less our family. Whoever, therefore eats of the bread or drinks of the cup 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. Don’t let this make us think that we need to achieve some level of perfection before we come to the table. Don’t let us think that we need to do something to get right with God before we come to this table. I like to say that the only qualification that we need to follow Christ is a realization of our need for Christ. Come not because any righteousness of your own gives you a right to come, but because you desire mercy and help. Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. That’s my qualification. Those are my credentials. What is Paul talking about here? Look at v 29 – For all who eat and drink with discerning the body eat and drink judgment on themselves. We are all part of Christ’s body. It’s an image Paul will continue with in chapter 12. Let us discern the body for we all members of it. If one is honoured, all are honoured. If one suffers, all suffer.
How are we discerning the body as a church? As churches? Are we caring for the least of these among us? If we’re not getting it right here in the family we’re not going to be getting it right out there. Can it be said among us in our congregation that the one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little? Who exactly are we called to be as we consider that we are participants, sharers, fellowshippers in the very body of Christ? What might that mean in our lives? To come to this table is to recognize our desperate need for God. Do not go beyond what is written, and part of what is written is Jesus’ words “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” What is written is Paul’s words, “You have the mind of Christ.” What does it mean for us to be a people called to live sacrificially, not as someone has said, “pursuing our own interests…but giving ourselves for others in remembrance of the one who gave himself for us.” How much are we being formed in the image of Christ each and every time we gather around this Family Table?
Let us examine ourselves. Do we long to take part in this family reunion? It’s easy to dismiss I suppose. My family got together for some years back in the 00’s and then it kind of stopped. Life got in the way, you know how it is. I miss those gatherings. I miss my aunts and uncles and cousins. We still see each other occasionally but it’s not the same. Some of us have gone on and we’re looking forward to seeing one another at a different kind of wedding banquet. Do we long to come around this family table? Do we look forward to it? Do we prepare ourselves for it? It’s easy to dismiss. It’s easy for life to get in the way. I think we do so at our peril though. Does your family have a ritual to call everyone to the table? In my family growing up we would ring a bell. That was the call. That was the invitation. Here’s our call. As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Let us keep on heeding this call. May God gives us hearts to say yes to this call, whether we’re gathering in person or on Zoom (and either way may God give us an unmistakably tangible sense of the fellowship of the saints – those we are with, those who have gone before. May the Holy Spirit continue to shape us into a people of whom it can be said “We have the mind of Christ.” May these things be true for all of us. Amen