In my religious tribe, we take communion together each Sunday. It’s usually a quiet and solemn time. A different brother each week will make introductory comments to guide our thoughts and prayers before we take the bread, then again before we drink the juice, all to commemorate Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
John Mark Hicks, authoring Come to the Table, suggests that we liven that up a wee bit. Especially if our intent is to follow the original patterns to fulfill their original purposes. Hicks believes that God intends the Lord’s Table to be a time of celebration and fellowship, not a somber time of solo reflections.
He guides his readers through four different eras of communion:
• Communion in Israel: Eating with God
• Communion in Luke-Acts: Eating with Jesus
• Communion in Paul: Eating with Each Other
• Communion Today: A Call for Supper Reform and Renewal
Throughout each, he shows how God has established fellowship and covenant through sacrifice, then confirms that fellowship and covenant through eating the sacrifice, a meal.
The history of Israel reveals many covenantal dimensions to the sacrificial meals. “The table was a communal act of communion with God characterized by joy (thanksgiving) and rededication (vow).” Israel would gather to rededicate themselves to the covenant that God pledged with them. These were not individual acts of private silence, but interactive experiences.
When Jesus appeared in the flesh, God visibly sat at table with people. Luke in particular shares many “meal stories” of Jesus inviting others to the table—Pharisees and tax collectors, rich and poor, men and women. Christ’s presence at the table was as both host and as servant.
Hicks posits that “no table in the Old or New Testament is burdened with sadness. Tables are always about reconciliation, peace and joy.” Thus, he advises that our fellowship time around the table in this era should also be about reconciliation, peace and joy.
Rather than practicing the supper as if it were still Friday, he says, “At the table we leave all our ‘Fridays’ behind us and celebrate the victory of Christ on Sunday. The table transforms ‘Friday’ into ‘Sunday.’”
How would this look in a modern-day church?
He offers that you could speak to the person beside you during the time of communion. Pray together, and share what the gospel means to you. Perhaps you could encourage others around you with simple words like “Jesus has forgiven you of your sins” or “Peace be with you.” Or public testimonies could be given as evidence of God’s faithfulness in continuing to redeem his people, not just in Bible times, but also now.
Hicks concludes the book with twelve points for revisioning the Lord’s Supper. The church should revision the supper:
- …as a table rather than an altar
- …as a meal rather than simply bread and wine
- …as an experience of spiritual communion with the Triune God
- …as an experience of interactive communion with the people of God
- …as an experience of grace (not a burden of near perfection in order to sit at the table, creating a climate of guilt that hinders)
- …as an experience of hope and joy
- …as a socio-ethical witness through shared food
- …as ethical commitment to the Lordship of Christ
- …as the visible, concrete display of the unity of the body of Christ
- …as a moment of inclusiveness that transcends all cultural, ethnic and gender boundaries
- …as the participation of all except the rebellious
- …as a family event, including children
While I don’t agree with everything in this book, I agree with enough to recommend it. Use it to research the scriptures and rethink your own traditions about why you do the Lord’s Supper as you do. This special celebration is always worth reexamining.