Meals can both unite and divide people. Jesus’ practice of eating with “unclean” people (Gentiles) challenged the Israelites’ food and cleanliness laws which kept them separate from others. The Lord’s Supper is the symbol of the good news that God is near and all are welcome at His table.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Luke 14:12-14; Matthew 9:10-12; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
In the past few days we’ve heard and seen a lot about the death of Queen Elizabeth, and we’ve learned a lot of things about her life, maybe some things that we didn’t know before.
I’m not big into all the royal family stuff, but I will admit that I’ve been touched by hearing about how she carried herself with dignity and level-headedness and grace during her 70 years as queen,
She was truly ahead of her time regarding things like women’s roles and expectations. And I’ve been struck by the way she conducted herself with a humility that is out of character for someone in her lofty position as the Queen of England.
The other day I heard an interview with Queen Elizabeth’s personal chef, and he talked about what she was like at meal times. He said that she had very simple requests for her food, often just asking him to bake her a piece of chicken with some vegetables on the side.
The chef said that she was not demanding or prideful, and always gracious in the way she treated him and the guests around the table.
Queen Elizabeth didn’t fit many people’s expectations of how she should live, given her gender and her standing in society.
Jesus was also someone who didn’t fit people’s stereotypes, in his case of how a Jewish rabbi should conduct himself. In fact, he was seen as a major rulebreaker by his fellow Jews.
And one of the biggest areas where Jesus broke the rules was the kind of people who he ate with around the dinner table.
Today we’re going to look at section 2 of Skye Jethani’s book, “What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church? The Family Meal”.
And we’ll look at how Jesus conducted himself at the table at meals, and also the significance of the last meal he had with his disciples, which is the root of our practice of the Lord’s Supper, or communion.
At the beginning of this section, Jethani sets the stage by emphasizing the power that sharing meals with other people can have.
The table is a powerful tool in every culture because every society uses meals to both unite and divide. Sharing a table is how we form bonds and establish a common identity. P. 57
He talks about the dietary laws for the people of Israel as outlined in the Old Testament, and how they were meant to divide and separate the Jewish people from Gentiles, who was everyone else. He says,
If people are unable to eat together, they are less like to form bonds, blend cultures, or intermarry. Israel’s odd diet kept them separate, thereby preserving their special calling and covenant with God.
Then Jethani gives a taste of what he’s going to unpack in the following chapters:
But for Christians who recognize the formative power of the table, it can be used by God to shape their lives and community in unimaginably beautiful ways. P. 58
I think that has been true in this congregation over the years, as I mentioned last week of all the meals that have been shared in the fellowship hall, in homes, restaurants, and at Highland Retreat.
In Ch. 11, I really liked Jethani’s thoughts on the Lord’s Supper as a symbol. Those of us who grew up Catholic were taught to believe that the bread and the wine were transformed at the mass into the actual body and blood of Jesus, which is known as transubstantiation.
And those of us who are part of traditions where it’s seen as a symbol, like Mennonites, we have a tendency to downplay the significance of the The Lord’s Supper in the process. It’s “just a symbol” we might say.
Jethani challenges this mentality by saying “being a symbol always makes something more important and never less” (p. 60)
And then he goes through the different covenants that God made with the people of Israel, and how each of them had a symbol that was related to the covenant itself.
After the flood, there was God’s covenant to never destroy the world again, marked by the symbol of a rainbow.
Then when God promised Abraham that he would have more descendants than he could count, this covenant was marked by the symbol of circumcision. (Ouch!)
Then after God rescued the people from backbreaking slavery in Egypt, he made the covenant of the Sabbath, a day of rest from working.
In the same way, the bread and cup symbolizing the body and blood of Jesus is a powerful symbol of how we are redeemed from sin and death and reconciled to God as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the next chapter, Jethani he talks more about the communal dimension of the meal table. I love how he uses the example of the Jr. High lunchroom to talk about the pecking order in society in ancient Israel. It reminded me of the movie “Mean Girls”.
Did this image of the lunchroom bring back any memories to you, positive or painful of what lunches were like in school for you? You can share one in the sharing time if you feel brave enough!
Jethani points out how Jesus shared meals with all the people considered “sinners”, “outcasts” and “unclean” to the Jewish people of his day. He showed radical hospitality and love to people on the margins of society by eating with them.
And then Jethani connects Jesus’ meal behavior with the kingdom or reign of God:
We often look at Jesus’ habit of sharing a table with sinners as a reflection of His grace and hospitality. It was certainly that, but there’s another dimension that we must not overlook. Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg says it this way:
“We have in these meals the central symbolic action of Jesus in which the message of the nearness of God’s reign and its salvation is focused and vividly depicted…Everything that separates from God is removed in the table fellowship that Jesus practiced.”
…the essence of Jesus’ message was manifested in his meals. P. 65-66
In the next chapter Jethani uses the modern image of the coffee bar, and contrasts it with the communion table. How many of you have visited a church that has a coffee bar in it? (I like the ones that have donuts to go with the coffee!)
It’s not that Jethani doesn’t like coffee, but he warns that a coffee bar has a different understanding of community than the Lord’s Supper.
At the coffee bar, we get to choose what we want to drink and eat, and who we want to sit with. At the Lord’s Table, we don’t get to we choose; we’re all on same footing.
If the church has a coffee bar every Sunday but rarely practices the Lord’s Supper, Jethani warns that there’s a chance that people will develop more into consumers than Christians.
Then Jethani goes into what he calls the biggest challenge facing the early Church:
The biggest controversy facing the first followers of Jesus was how to integrate Jewish and Gentile Christians into one community.
I think we talked about the story of Peter and Cornelius a while back. Peter was a dyed in the wool Jew, who would never have sit at the same table with Gentiles , even if they became Christ followers.
But God used a dream of a sheet with all kinds of unclean animals to show Peter that unity and breaking bread together in the fellowship of believers was more important than dietary and cleanliness laws, which kept people divided. He says
Everyone would have preferred homogenous congregations with Jews and Gentiles occupying separate churches where each could preserve their cultures, languages, and traditions without disruption or compromise.
…But that’s not the church that Jesus wanted. Instead, he called Jews and Gentiles to share one faith, one church, and one table. P. 73-4
“In true community, we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by our self-serving choices.” Parker Palmer
We talked about this last week with the image of the school bus, how church is like a school bus where you don’t get to decide who else rides the bus with you.
Then in the next couple of chapters Jethani uses another image, this time of a time machine. He uses a time machine to describe the idea of the Lord’s supper as a powerful symbol of remembrance. He says
“remembrance”… meant recalling a past event so that the power of that event may enter the present. P. 77
The table is a time machine through which God’s saving power from the past is transported into the present. (recognize that Delorean from BTTF?)
Jethani says that the communion table offers hope as foretaste of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God which will usher in a world where there will be no more pain or suffering. He says
When we come to the table as Jesus did, we will discover it is where the past, present, and future converge into a single point of grace. p. 82 .
Then Jethani comes back to the idea of the Church being a community where everyone is on the same level, where there are no social divisions or hierarchies.
He talks about preparation for communion being more than just self-examination, which I’ve how I’ve often seen it when preparing for communion. I would think, “is my heart right with God”, “is my conscience clean”, etc.
This is part of preparing ourselves for communion, but Jethani reminds us to look beyond ourselves to the broader congregation and ask ‘Are there any people that I need to reconcile with?’ or ‘Are there any people being mistreated in the church?’
While self-examination is always beneficial, here Paul is asking us whether we are estranged from a sister or brother, and be reconciled before going to the table.
And then in Ch. 18 Jethani tells the powerful story of a church communion service in Richmond, just down I-95, which took place right after the end the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was there, along with a well-dressed black man.
Lee and all the other white folks there totally ignore the black man when they go to the communion table, and the next day the local newspaper praises Lee for his actions, saying
“By this action of General Lee the services were conducted as if the negro had not been present. It was a grand exhibition of superiority shown by a true Christian and great soldier under the most trying and offensive circumstances”.
Jethani comments on this event, which I think also applies to our society today where racism still exists in individuals as well as institutions, even the church:
To share the same table, partake of the same bread, and drink from the same cup is a bold declaration of our equality before God. The Lord’s Table, when faithfully and biblically practiced, shatters the heresy of white supremacy. (P. 89-90)
Toward the end of the section, Jethani points out that the word “eucharist” which is a word sometimes used for the Lord’s Supper, means “thanksgiving”. He emphasizes that coming to the Lord’s table should be a celebration, a joyful act of gratitude to God. He says:
The cross is a symbol of glory rather than one of shame…the bread and cup became a way for Christians to express gratitude for their redemption from darkness, as well as a way to celebrate the Lord’s triumph over the world. P. 93
He talks about the table as a symbol of victory, not just death, as the power of God to redeem all things and turn our mourning into gladness.”
And then Jethani quotes Henri Nouwen on living eucharistically where Nouwen says that “through mourning and losses we come to know life as a gift.” P. 94
In Chapter 20 Jethani says that the Lord’s table is a time for celebration and thanksgiving because the table is where those who are wounded can find healing.
We all have wounds and scars, and are broken people. But the good news is that there is healing and hope because we are loved unconditionally by a God who wants to mend our hearts and make us whole, and is able to bring healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jethani says, When we are loved and accepted for who we really are and welcomed into the life of another person without conditions, it brings healing to our souls. P. 97
That painting is Rembrandt’s depiction of the Return of the Prodigal Son, and shows so powerfully the father’s unconditional love and forgiveness for his wayward son. Henri Nouwen wrote an entire book about it.
On October 2, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper on World Communion Sunday. This section in our book definitely gives us a lot to reflect on in preparation for that day. How can we prepare ourselves for communion? How often should we celebrate it here at Daniels Run Peace Church?