Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for all partake of the one loaf. (1 Corinthians 10.16-17)
The People of God
My faith community celebrates the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month, as has every congregation I’ve joined down through the years. So First Sunday always holds special meaning for me. Entering the worship space on that day promises a sensory return to the Cross. Even when the liturgy focuses elsewhere—like today, when the service centered on Psalm 139 (“Search me, O God”)—the service’s progression toward that climactic moment steadily draws my thoughts to the awful sacrifice and awesome victory that Calvary represents. Ordinarily, my inner vision lifts its sight to the Man of Sorrows. Perhaps because each new month finds me a little older and better acquainted with grief, appreciation for His boundless love runs deeper with every pilgrimage to the table laid in commemoration of His death.
Today was a little different. The minister raised the loaf of bread and chalice and said (like always), “These are the gifts of God for the people of God.” The people of God—the words pierced my heart. My usual seat put me in the first wave of communicants. As we quietly filed toward the altar, all I could think was, “I am one of the people of God.” In our church, the loaf is broken in two with each half given to a lay-member who offers it to the rest of us. We pull a morsel from the loaf as we pass, followed by a tiny glass of non-alcoholic wine presented by another lay-member. Today, taking my portion from the bread refreshed my understanding: I come from this. The brutalized body of my Savior and the living, breathing Body that witnesses His triumph over death merged in my brain. The moment was as much about arising out of this Body as entering into It. Back at my seat, I looked at the extraordinarily diverse group waiting to reaffirm its faith and membership in Christ—young and old, straight and gay, partnered and single, brown, black, yellow, and white, prosperous and secure, struggling and anxious. The people of God. Mist filled my eyes, verging on tears when the pianist broke the silence with a reverent, subtly jazz and country-infused variation of the old hymn:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel's veins
And sinners plunged beneath the flood
Lose all their guilty stains
Friends of a Friend
The table beckons us to remember Who joins us together. Physically gathering there destroys our differences by demonstrating one incontrovertible truth we share. We are all friends of a Friend. Our love and concern for one another began with His love and concern for us. The table guards our mindfulness He befriended us long before we confirmed our friendship with Him. As Romans 5.8 so beautifully puts it, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The taste of bread and wine replenishes our conviction no friend ever can or ever will offer friendship in a more radically trusting and inclusive fashion than Jesus—to the point He had no reluctance saying so: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15.13) He goes on to say, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Our Friend at the table invites us to remember Him—to recollect His insuperable, a priori offering of friendship, an act of courage and faith greater than any other—to reestablish Him as our common bond. The magnitude of His selflessness withers our small-minded selfishness to imagine He would go to such extremes for us (and people like us), yet deny anyone we find disagreeably unlike us. What have we done to deserve such kindness? How could we possibly think who or what we are entitles us more than others to Christ’s friendship? Jesus scaled Calvary’s peak to create a mesa, a level place where all stand equally tall to see the world from the same height. For this reason, the flat table couldn’t be more appropriate as the place where we commune as friends of a Friend. Knowing one another’s business—scrutinizing one another’s affairs for approval—is wildly inappropriate there because His business, everything He has told us in confidence, is all we need to know.
“Sinners plunged beneath the flood lose all their guilty stains,” the hymn says. We are not spattered with droplets or lightly brushed with Christ’s love and friendship. We are plunged beneath the flood. We go in looking different and thinking differently. We come out looking and believing the same. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul calls this “participation in the blood of Christ,” saying the cup our Friend offers at the table equalizes us. He says the same of the bread: “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for all partake of the one loaf.” What’s on the table and the table itself defines everything we believe and do. Its contents and construction purposefully encourage participation by all. Nothing on or about it suggests limited accessibility to a select few. The table, the cup, and the bread are the gifts of God for the people of God. This is so fundamental to our faith any other presumptions regarding it are to be discounted, no matter how deeply they’re inculcated in our respective traditions. Some of us may feel constrained to indulge them in order to retain our faith heritages. But we must never accept them. To say you or I cannot meet at the table—or we’re unworthy to serve there—is as ludicrous as saying we’re not fit to breathe. That’s how basic it is, and that’s why the table is what it is.
The cup and bread are the gifts of God for the people God offered at a level table accessible to all. We meet there as friends of a Friend.