I don’t know about you, but mealtime was never dull growing up.
Well, that’s mostly accurate.
Now, truth be told, I had all sorts of experiences around the family meal table. Of course there were the requisite good days and bad days, good moods and bad moods, good food and (sorry Mom) not so good food.
But between my sister and I, there was always someone saying something.
And it was around the family mealtime that I learned several things. I learned proper manners for how to eat food; I learned to serve others before being served. I learned to defer to others when they were talking. I learned by expectation how to pattern my day.
The dinnertime was always the same. We ate at the same time, sitting at the same place, with generally the same people, whether we wanted to or not. That was it. We were a family.
I look back on those days and realize all around me that there is immense pressure to keep up the practice of a family meal. Just the other night my wife and I were talking and she asked me my opinion as to whether or not childhood obesity constituted as child abuse. Certainly if the child is young enough, whatever they are eating, however they are (or are not) being physically active is no doubt a reflection of what they see from the parents.
It is the parents responsibility to set the tone in the house for food and how it is to be treated.
I got to thinking about the obesity part. It made me thankful that meals were always set before us in a reasonable and healthy way growing up. I knew when dinner would be, and I knew where it would be. And I knew who I would be eating with.
And I felt satisfied.
It’s interesting the way we approach the Lord’s table, though. We don’t view it necessarily as a family meal. We view it as a private and personal time to be meditative and reflective and connect with Jesus. And to be sure that although those components of meditation and reflection are there, there must be something else going on as well. It is, after all, the Eucharist. It is the meal of grace and thanksgiving.
In John Collins’ piece “The Eucharist as Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read the Bible” in the Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004), he writes:
“If we follow this point through, we find guidance concerning the proper tone for celebrating the Eucharist: it is to be primarily a joyful occasion. There is, to be sure, a place for penitence and sorrow in it, since it is human sin that requires the blood to be shed; but this is only the preliminary, and not the focus. The proper focus, according to passages like Deut 12:7 and 14:26, is to eat before the Lord, and there to rejoice with others—and this should set the tone in the Christian celebration.”
How do we teach this to our congregations today? I think it starts by re-envisioning the meal as a family feast. We aren’t staring at our laps like a small child, playing with our silverware and our napkins, just trying to eat our food and be excused from the table. It is a meal of thanksgiving, where we are eating in the presence of the Lord and rejoicing with the others that are nearby. And in so, acting a bit like the family God is making us to be.
Next, we must always remember that the house of worship that we come to is not a lecture hall. It is not a place where we fill our heads with ideas. No, the meetinghouse of God’s people is a banquet hall, and Jesus himself meets us in the feast to feed us with every spiritual blessing that is ours in him. Just as we pull out all the stops for our family around celebrations such as holidays or birthdays, so Jesus pulls out all the stops when we gather as his people around his table. We are given food that is the “richest of fare”, and even then reminded it is only a foretaste of the grand banquet that is to come.
Are you ready? Are you ready to “taste and see that the Lord is good?” Come to the table, and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Come to bear witness and proclaim a gospel that is big enough, wide enough, deep enough, and strong enough to withstand all that hell could throw at it, and emerge conquering and victorious. Come and take your place at the family table. The food is still hot, and your seat is waiting for you.
Editors Note: The following block-quotes are from Peter Leithart’s Westminster Theological Journal article: The Way Things Really Ought to Be: Eucharist, Eschatology, and Culture
“Despite well-founded objections, ritual theory can serve as a useful corrective to the myopia of some sacramental theology. Evangelical Protestants frequently treat sacraments, despite their location in the textbooks, exclusively in the context of individual soteriology. The central question has been, How is grace conveyed through my participation in the elements of the sacrament? What can the sacraments do for me?”
Typically, this art of remembering is pressed on the individual, in that “preparing for the Lord’s Supper” we make sure that there is no unconfessed sin between us and God. We don’t do much to help the church in the matter by playing quiet, reflective music and modeling participation with our heads bowed and eyes closed. Quite clearly in that we are looking for that quiet moment between us and God.
“Ritual theory, by contrast, explores rites in relation to the faith and practices of the communities that celebrate and enact them; in theological terms, ritual theory situates sacramental and liturgical theology firmly within ecclesiological and thus forces upon us such questions as, What do the rites of the church express about the church’s understanding of herself, her place in the world, and of the human vocation? How are her rites not only means of grace to the individual participant but also formative of the church’s communal ethos and interpersonal relations? Ritual theory thus helps sacramental theology break the frame of the zoom lens.”
When the table is viewed only as sentimental memorial looking backwards, it becomes an introverted time of fellowship between a memory and a person. When the table is viewed through the lens of individual communion with Christ (through the Spirit) today, it is another way of getting our personal Jesus fix.
However, if memory and personal presence are combined with a third aspect, we begin to see through a much broader vantage point the full and vast implications of table worship. If we see the meal that we share as a rehearsal of eschatological kingdom virtues being lived out and embodied here and now, we can being to remind ourselves by practice and repetition the formative practice of what it means to celebrate the finished work of Christ on the cross on our behalf, enjoy communion with those whose rest is won, and find ourselves satisfied from the only food that can quench our longings.
How does the church have her communal ethos shaped by the Table?
“With the current situation of the American church in mind, we can say the following: frequent eating and drinking at the Lord’s table will inoculate the church against the Gnosticism of modern Christianity (not to mention trendy spiritualisms) that would reduce religion to a private, inner, purely “spiritual” experience; a church whose central religious rite includes baked goods is being trained in proper dominion over creation and will refuse resurgent nature worship in both its religious and political guises; a church that celebrates a feast of wine is being formed into a joyful community that contests the equation of Christian seriousness with prudish-ness; a church that celebrates the communal meal is bound into one body and will resist the corrosive individualism of modern culture that has too often invaded the church; a church that shares bread at the Lord’s table is learning the virtues of generosity and humility; a church that proclaims the Lord’s sacrificial death in the Supper is exercising itself in self-sacrifice and becoming immune to the lure of self-fulfillment. Not automatically, but in the context of biblical teaching and a robust community life, the skills and virtues practiced at the Lord’s table will spill over to fill the whole church with a eucharistic ethos. In short, the Supper exercises the church in the protocols of life in the presence of God. The Supper, then, is not “God’s flannel graph” so much as “the church’s role-play.”
As some of my more observant readers have noticed, I have quietly alluded to the fact that I am going to be pursuing a Doctor of Ministry from Covenant Theological Seminary studying Christian Worship. I hope to blog more in the next few days about some of the things that made that program exciting, and I think, the most logical step for my continued study and maturation as a minister of the Word and a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (not to mention a practitioner of worship).
The following are excerpts from “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future” (emphasis added in parts), and have been some of the more moving and convicting things that I have read on the present day necessity to understand what we are doing as we lead God’s people in worship week in and week out.
“We call for the Church’s reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church. These modern methods compartmentalize God’s story by analyzing its separate parts, while ignoring God’s entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ. Anti-historical attitudes also disregard the common biblical and theological legacy of the ancient Church…
“We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts Gods story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisma of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim Gods cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to Gods saving acts.”