Table Talk

Like every other home in 1970s America, we had a set of TV trays.   I am not sure why we had them, because we never used them.   While our neighbors were consuming TV dinners on TV trays huddled around the glowing phosphorescence of modernity, we ate our meals after the manner of our forefathers.  My father’s rules of the table were clear.  We all sat down together as a family for the evening meal.  No one could eat “on the run.” Our meals were not drop in affairs.

Before we served our plates or tasted the first savory morsel of my mother’s cooking, every person seated around the table would pray.   The TV was never allowed on during meal times.  And my father allowed no shirts without collars or bare feet at his table.  While we sometimes thought this protocol extreme, it had a defining effect on the culture of our family.

The dinner table is a microcosm of family life.   When everyone is eating on the run and doing their own thing, dropping in and dropping out for meals, the same patterns are typically true of the larger life of the family.   The family becomes less a family and more a group of cohabitors, living in the same space, but not living life together.  How we eat our meals is a reflection of how we live our lives.  Conversely, how we come to the table often establishes a culture of how we live our lives together.

This is true for our nuclear families and adoptive families as well.   This is particularly true in the Church.   The Lord’s Table has always been a culturally defining activity in the life of the church.  While its elements, the bread and wine, recall the gospel realities that call us into life together, it is our manner of approach, preparation, and participation that reflect the realities of that life together.   When they are healthy, our fellowship is healthy.  When they are unhealthy, our fellowship is unhealthy.   It is for precisely this reason that church discipline is often expressed through suspension from the Lord’s Table.  And restoration is signaled by readmission to the Lord’s Table.

Just as a covenant renewal pattern of our worship is the pattern of our relationship to Christ, so the Lord’s Supper is a pattern for our life in fellowship with one another – not just in the church, but in every sphere of our lives.  As one theologian put it, “how you come to the Lord’s Table defines how you come to every other table.”   So, it is not surprising that the “words of institution” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) we so often hear as the pastor calls us to the Lord’s Table, come from a passage warning the Corinthian Church about the dangers of unworthy communing.

Remarkably Paul begins this call to the table with “on the night when [Jesus] was betrayed, he took bread and gave thanks.”    On the night in which He was betrayed!   What a somber way to introduce a joyful remembrance!  This phrase ought to get our attention and challenge us to consider our preparation, approach, and participation.   This phase also calls us to examine the biblical accounts of that First Supper, we often call the Last Supper.

Each of the gospels recounts the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  And in each account we see the graciousness of Christ and the frailty of the disciples.  As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 10, these things are written for our instruction.   From the compelling gospel accounts of the Last Supper, we find both encouragements and warnings regarding our own preparation, approach and participation.   Join us this Sunday, March 8, as we examine Luke 22:1-38 and consider its encouragements and warnings regarding how we come to the Lord’s Table.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Examine Yourself… And Come

A fence usually says “KEEP OUT!”   Some fences are put up to keep precious things in, but often they are put up to keep suspicious things out.   But there are also fences to protect those who might wander heedlessly into danger.  For example, we have laws requiring pool owners to put fences around their swimming pool for just this reason.

The Lord’s Table, Communion, The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist has just such a fence – to protect those who might wander heedlessly and faithlessly into danger.   Our Scottish forefathers erected a movable fence, called a Travess, around the communion tables.  Communicants had to remit a communion token to an elder at the gate to give evidence of an examination by their minister that their life and conversation was in accord with their profession of faith in Christ.

Nowadays, Reformed churches erect this fencing verbally.  This fencing consists of warning those who have not been baptized in the Triune name, who have not professed faith before the church, who are under the lawful discipline of the Church or who are unwilling to repent of their sins, not come heedlessly and faithlessly to the Lord’s Table.  Lest they believe that bread and cup are enough to save without faith in Christ.

The “fencing” and the call to self-examination, however, may tempt tender believers to flights of morbid introspection, turning the joyful feast into a sorrowful fast.  Dwelling dolefully upon our sin and failure turns the nourishing grace and assurance of the Lord’s Supper into a wasting moral perfectionism and works righteousness.    You see, the words of Scripture are important at this point.  “Let a man examine himself and come!”  The proper response to this examination — which inevitably turns up unconfessed sin, un-sanctified habits, half-hearted love for Christ and our neighbors — is to confess, repent, rest upon Christ and come.  The warning is not to wait or stay away until we have  mastered our sin by our piety or practice.  For that, my friend, will never, and can never, happen.

What a precious sentiment is expressed in Joseph Hart’s hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched.”

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.

Come ye needy, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended;
Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him; venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

One phrase is particularly relevant as we examine ourselves in regard to the Lord’s Table.  “Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream, all the fitness He requires, is to feel your need of Him.”  With similar words, John Calvin exhorted his flock at the Lord’s Supper that their worthiness to come to the table was found in acknowledging their unworthiness in themselves and trusting solely in the worthiness of Christ.  Let a man examine himself…  and come.

Join us this Lord’s Day, September 9, for worship as we come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate Christ’s atoning work, find strengthening for our faith in this means of grace, and a enjoy together a foretaste of the future feast. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions and download the order of service.