I figure that average, run-of-the-mill Americans, if invited to the king’s (these days, it might better be called the queen’s) table, would be excited for the chance to attend and would brush up on proper etiquette, probably run out and purchase a new suit of clothes, and then would mind their table manners. It is not usual for commoners to dine with monarchy, and when they do, they have some cleaning up to do in order to get ready. Americans, who invented drive-thru eating, have lot of adjustments to make.
How much more would you ready yourself for a meal at THE LORD’s TABLE?
(Disclaimer: This post will not directly address Catholics. I happen to be one who believes in an open communion – open to any and all who merely claim Jesus as Lord. I don’t believe Protestant churches even have the right to close off communion. I am not at all convinced the Holy Catholic Church does either, but I am sure that IF any has that right, it would be the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, my Catholic friends are welcome to read this over Protestant shoulders and know I am not addressing it at them.)
So, if you want to come to the LORD’s TABLE, it looks to me like you probably would want to gussy up on your manners a bit. Of course anyone who would refuse makes themselves unfit. Let them refuse. But those who want to join need to behave properly. Just the desire to attend might be one of those adjustments. I imagine some of my American neighbors would be fascinated and enthused at the chance to dine with British royalty and would want to be prepared to honor and respect the traditions and customs that go with that, though I doubt seriously any would feel the slightest bit of British authority over them.
Likewise, I imagine the average, run-of-the-mill American invited to dine with the POTUS would feel similarly. As a voter, that American is this president’s boss, in a sense. We are equals under the law. But of course, even though that is not lost on the American psyche, there is still a sense of awe for the institution and the fancy events like state dinners. Thus, I imagine your average American sitting up a bit straighter, putting the phone down during the meal, dressing up, and asking someone in the know about security protocols and which one is the salad fork and all about elbows on the table before ever taking that seat.
However, that democratization of power, importance, and equality, I think, somehow translates over to the LORD’s TABLE too, unfortunately and ironically. In fact, I don’t see modern Christians sitting up and paying special attention at this TABLE really. In fact, I find them willing to skip the invitation far more often than accepting it. I find those who bother to show up, slouching in shorts, ball caps, and all manner of equivalents to taking a knee when ceremonial music is played in other venues or less!
It’s all a bit casual when Jesus is Lord – at least in the modern day.
But how would you gussy up for a meal with Jesus? What does that really mean?
Well, I Corinthians 11:29 quickly comes to mind in a discussion like this. “He who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment on himself if he does not discern the body rightly,” says St. Paul.
Well, quoting that passage does practically nothing to resolve the matter in a modern debate, though it is an important part of the discussion. There seem to be two ways of handling that passage which go in differing directions. On the one hand (and I think MOST people familiar with the passage take it THIS way), Paul might be telling the Corinthians to humbly prepare their hearts to focus on their “vertical” relationship Jesus and contemplate his loving sacrifice as they partake. No doubt that is a good idea. But others (myself included) take this passage as if instructing us in more the “horizontal” discernment – our relation with others. Wait for the OTHERS to partake WITH us TOGETHER in UNITY.
There is no way my post is going to settle that debate. Thus, I merely reference it and acknowledge my view on it. I respect the former, but hold to the latter. (I am entirely okay with BOTH/AND, but I still believe the latter case to be the heavy.)
Jesus prays, in John 17, very movingly about the unity of his disciples at one of the most poignant moments of his life and ministry. Right when it matters most! Shortly before his loving sacrifice.
St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seems to be occasioned at least in part by his concern about factions in the congregation. It appears that some people in this church are of rather high and powerful social standing while others low. It may be that those of low status (due to shift work hours?) wind up joining the congregation late, but those of high status eat the Church feast and leave crumbs and scraps for the lowly when they arrive late. IF that is the concern being addressed by St. Paul, then it tells us the manner of TABLE MANNERS which bring honor to Jesus as opposed to those other kinds of etiquette we show to earthly kings and presidents.
At THIS TABLE, you come in LOVE for one another.
This puts all of us Protestants on notice. We are partaking of Eucharist in an unworthy manner every time we come to the LORD’s TABLE just because we failed to discern the Body and so easily ignore the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Cowboy church, and black church, Chinese church, and on and on it goes. (This goes back to my disclaimer above then, since all of these groups AND MANY MORE LIKE THEM split with each other AND with the Holy Catholic Church – all Christians claiming the same Lord but not each other as his Body! We don’t even desire to attend the meal anymore – not the one where THOSE guests are allowed.)
But in all of this, there seems to be one more – even more particular split of special interest, and that is when we fail to wait for the poor.
“If you do it for the least of these, my brothers, you do it for me,” says Jesus (Matt. 25:40). If you fail to do it for the least, you fail to do it for Jesus.
TABLE MANNERS in the Kingdom of God appear to involve especially and specifically our love for the poor. What is it Luke’s Jesus says? He was sent to proclaim the Good News to the poor. It is a Jubilee we are invited to, not some “state dinner.” All that pomp is nice, but not necessary. Without LOVE, you are just a noisy gong! (I Cor. 13:1). When you throw a party (Eucharist? – Is there a bigger party???), do not invite your friends, family, relatives, and rich neighbors (so that you will be repaid in kind)… NO… invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and THOSE WHO CANNOT REPAY you, and THEN you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just! (Luke 14:12-14).
This is TABLE MANNERS in the Kingdom of God.
“Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If you open up to me, I will come in and party with you…” (Rev. 3:20)