Don’t put your elbows on the table while you’re eating. Wait until everyone is served before you begin. Make sure you have a napkin in your lap. Don’t slurp your soup! Am I starting to sound like your mom? Or your grandma? Or whoever it was that taught you good table manners? What were some of the rules at your dinner table growing up? Did you have to be in your seat at 6:00 sharp, clean and dressed for dinner? Were you expected to set the table for your family meal? Were you expected to wait until everyone was finished eating before you left the table?
My mom had the request that there be no singing at the dinner table, which I thought was strange, but I can see now that was all part of having a calm, quiet meal with the family. How is your Sunday dinner or your Thanksgiving dinner different that a regular weekday meal? Do you sit at the table? Dress a little nicer? Say please and thank you more frequently? Table manners make a big difference in your dining experience. I’ve also noticed that nothing can make you feel more out of place than if everyone around you is adhering to a certain set of table manners and you are not quite sure what to do.
Like any concerned mother or grandmother who is trying to teach her offspring good table manners, Paul has a few things to say to the church in Corinth about their table manners. Paul is not happy with the abuses he has seen at the Lord’s Table. The Corinthian believers have taken this communal meal, in which the vitally important remembrance of Jesus’ last supper takes place and royally messed it up. Paul is so disturbed about the reports he has heard that he does not beat around the bush. He uses a harsh reprimand. Paul says, “So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!”
For the 1st Century Christian, observing the Lord’s Supper was quite different than the way we experience it today. Remember that they were most likely meeting in homes, not in established church buildings. So, they were probably gathering in a home large enough to host an entire community of believers in Christ.
Many scholars believe that the ritual observance of the Lord’s Supper included a full meal. The observance of the communion meal started with breaking bread together, remembering the way Christ broke bread with the disciples. Next, they would eat a full meal, and after the meal they would share in the ritual of the cup (drinking from it as Christ’s disciples did). Eating together was an important way to form a community, especially since Jews and Gentiles were both believers in Christ together. Harsh adherence to dietary laws had been loosened in the name of table fellowship and relationship with one another.
In an ideal world this “bread, meal, cup” way of being together was a beautiful way to observe and remember the meal that Christ shared with his beloved followers. However, the Corinthians had made a real mess of it. It seems that some were coming early to the meal- maybe those that were in the more elite classes who had the luxury to come and go as they pleased, and some were coming later. By the time the latecomers got there, there was no food left. The early birds were stuffed and drunk. Not exactly what a meal in the Kingdom of God should look like.
Eating was vitally important to Jesus. He taught and he showed in his dining with others that all people should have a place at the table. Jesus even reserved a special place at the table, a place of honor for those who did not regularly receive it. Jesus gave priority seating to the poor and the disabled- those who were not ideal dinner guests in the world.
The Corinthians were forgetful like we are. They had an ambassador of Christ, named Paul, who helped them understand Christ’s teachings and how to live them out and as soon as he left town, they messed it up. We are so like them. We can hear a message about how to treat each other in God’s Kingdom and then go right out into the world and do the opposite. How we act on our faith is vitally important.
Table manners in the Kingdom of God are of utmost importance. God’s table manners don’t just prove that you’ve been raised right, or that someone cared enough about you to teach you how to act at the dinner table, God’s table manners are about honoring Christ himself, God’s most precious gift.
Gathering at the Lord’s Table is the central most important thing we do together as a people of God. The table is the place where we become the body of Christ. Everything in our worship service builds to the moment when we receive the elements that represent Christ’s body and blood. Part of the meaning of the Table is a remembering. When we gather with Christ at the Table like his followers did in the Upper Room we become a part of the story of his life. We remember that Christ gave us his body and blood.
Remembering is not just about thinking back to an event there is more to remembering than that. I want you to think about the word remember. Break it down into two parts and it is “re-member”. The word literally means to “put together again”. When we gather to share the Lord’s Supper we put back together the Body of Christ. We become that body in our sharing of the meal. When we realize that we are Christ’s body as we partake in the feast together, it is no wonder that Paul was so upset with the Corinthians for their appalling table manners.
Paul reminds the Corinthians what the meal is about when he shares with them what we have come to know as “the words of institution”. He reminds them that this is the same meal that Jesus shared, and in sharing with one another not only do we enter into a covenant with God but we also proclaim that Christ’s coming is our future. Sharing communion together is not a ritual that we participate in just for the sake of ritual, it is deeply meaningful, intimate time with Christ each week.
Many find that participating in the Lord’s Supper gives them an opportunity to recommit to Christ. Many reflect on the blessings they have been given, realizing that this meal is the greatest “Thanksgiving” of all times.
As we get on our knees and receive these elements we are reminded of the commitment of Christ for us. We are reminded of the lengths to which that the Lord was willing to go for us. And that calls us to respond likewise with a commitment. Not just a superficial commitment but total commitment.
I don’t know what you are thinking as you are taking Communion- that is between you and God, but this Sunday especially I want to encourage you to participate in this meal of love with purpose and intentionality. Don’t make it an empty ritual. Ask Christ to enter into your heart and help you to be a part of the body of Christ. Remember the actions of Jesus’ life and all the amazing things that he did on your behalf.
This morning I want to ask you, how are our table manners? Do we go through the motions at the communion table and not let its power transform us? Is there anyone we are keeping from experiencing this meal by not inviting them to be a part of what God is doing in the world? Paul warns against participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner- are we acting like jerks in the world and Christians at the Communion table? How are our table manners? Is there anyone we are keeping from the Table?
On this day, Christians all over the world are participating in this sacred meal. Someone will participate in this meal today who never has before in their life. For them, the Table has meaning. Someone is receiving the Lord’s Supper today in a part of the world where it isn’t entirely safe to be a Christian, and I can guarantee you he or she is not just going through the motions. How about us? How are our table manners? How will we put back together the body of Christ?
I pray today that each of us would examine our hearts and find that we are a beloved child of God. We are so valued and beloved that Christ gave up his life to secure us a place at God’s Table. May we treat this table as if what we do here might just save the world; because it can- and it will through the power of Christ- if our table manners are right. Amen and amen