(This meditation is the fourth of a series regarding the communion table)
This meditation was influenced by Chapter 8 of Sunday Dinner by William Willimon. It is a great, easy to read book on Communion.
Perhaps there appears to be a contradiction of the table being a sacrifice and a meal, but this apparent contradiction is the easiest to understand. Once I explain it you will see how genius Jesus was using a meal as one of the greatest symbols of the Christian faith.
Each and every time we eat we are participating in a sacrifice and a meal. Let's say you and I are going to sit down and eat a fried chicken dinner. On the table is a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, a heaping portion of homemade macaroni and cheese, and good ole' buttermilk biscuits. Of course in the middle of table, smelling up the entire room, is crispy and greasy fried chicken. (I hope your mouth is watering because mine is.)
Before a bite even comes to your mouth sacrifice is all over the table. First there is the sacrifice of life. The chicken's life had to be sacrificed in order to make the meal. The future life of eggs had to be sacrificed to make the biscuits and possibly the coating for the chicken. (Depending on how it was done.) The cow gives up the milk and butter. The grain is destroyed to make the flour. Sacrifice.
Second, time was sacrificed to make the meal. Americans tend to take time for granted. Even frozen fried chicken purchased at the grocery store takes time to make. As the saying goes, time is money. Perhaps we don't consider what we do as part of the sacrifice of the table, but we should. Every time we come to the table for communion we are taking our joys and sorrows; our successes and failures with us. It is not bad to take sorrows and failures to the table as long as we realize we are bringing those things. Jesus made failure at the table an option when he brought up Peter's and Judas' failure before they had ever done it. Judas ran away from it while Peter did the correct thing and confronted it.
None of that discounts this is meal, a celebration. We gather. We commune. (There is a reason we call this communion.) I believe there is no better way to connect than over a meal. I must confess, I enjoyed the meals at the leadership conference, I recently participated in, because I talked more over food. Aside from my cohort group, every meaningful connection I made was during a meal. Food puts our guard down and allows us to find the most primal of connections: we all need to eat. No wonder Jesus ate with anyone who would take him in: tax collectors, Jews, Gentiles, Priests, Lawyers, friends, enemies, and complete strangers.
Another way to look at it: The table is all about give and take. Sacrifice is what is given to the table. Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice. We also bring our sacrifice to it. The meal is what we take from the table. Without both give and take the table breaks and ceases to function.
Next week we will wrap it all up: How do we understand the table both being a spiritual and a physical meal?