At the Table
When summer comes and city corners are full again of kids with bikes and basketballs, my mind returns to a particular playground. For several summers I worked at a church with an outdoor recreation ministry, whose intent was to serve the neighborhood, meeting the kids and building relationships. We played games, read stories, jumped rope, and organized basketball tournaments. One year a volunteer came and helped the kids make pottery, so we commissioned them to create some new communion plates and chalices for the church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Most of these kids had never taken communion before; many had never heard of the Lord’s Supper or been told the story of Jesus and his disciples in the upper room. So with muddied hands we told the story, and together that summer several sets of communion plates and cups were fashioned by kids eager to see them in use. I have never seen more colorful, misshapen objects grace the altar of a church; nor have I ever seen so many wide-eyed children come to life at the communion table. The elders held the lopsided plates and cups, inviting the church community to come and remember the one who shapes us. The children had a physical reminder of their place at the table, and the church was reminded again that we are all children being nourished by the Son of God.
When Christians proclaim the Incarnation, they proclaim the gift of a God who comes noticeably near his creation; the Lord’s Supper is another gift marking a God who comes near. The table is a place, like the manager in Bethlehem or the Cross of Calvary, where we are welcomed—rather, summoned—to come forward as we are: the poor to a benevolent giver, the sick to a physician, the sinful to the author of righteousness, children to the Father of life. Jesus left this sign and seal specifically with human beings in mind. When he gave us the command to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of his presence among us, he gave us a sign of this presence that is both visible and physical. Fourth century preacher John Chrysostom wrote of this physical gift as a vital reminder both because we ourselves are physical and Christ as well: “Were we incorporeal, he would give us these things in a naked and incorporeal form. Now because our souls are implanted in bodies, he delivers spiritual things under things visible.” We are given a sign to hold, a reminder of Christ’s nearness that nourishes both body and soul. In the act of eating, we are given the assurance of a real and present and nourishing Christ: “Lo, I am with you always even unto the ends of the earth” (Matthew 28:20).
Coming to the table like the disciples centuries before us, Christians consume a meal that sustains us like any other. And yet, it is at his table that we ingest the death and life of Christ; we participate in his birth among us, his suffering on the Cross, his humiliation and burial, his resurrection and new life. As a visible sign, it is far from one-dimensional. Like the children who first witnessed the Lord’s Supper from bright plates painted at their own hands, it is personal. It is so much more than a meal.
Christ calls those who will hear to the table to commune with him and a great cloud of witnesses. He calls us to locate ourselves and our redemption in the presence of a great community and in the midst of a remarkable story. We are invited to see our lives within the history of a covenant people and a vast community of believers. For we are children sustained by a mighty Father, a provident parent aware of our vast need and more than able to fulfill it. Christ was born as a child in Bethlehem not merely to come nearer, but to usher the world by his grace into communion and community, into his life and his death, the journey of faith, the pilgrimage of believers, and the story of salvation. We are invited to a great and intimate table:
On the night Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and broke it and gave it to those he loved saying, Come, take and eat, this is my body broken for you…
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