Table Time

Our whole church family sat down to tables for communion Sunday, August 7, 2011. It was the first time the supper was observed at tables in this way during worship, according to the memories of those who've been around for decades. The table snaked 200 feet through the room we worship in, and we all sat down to share the supper as a family.

As we passed the bread, we said to the person we passed it to, "the body of Christ, broken for you."

As we passed the juice, we said, "the blood of Christ poured out for you." Many of us personalized with the name of the person we sat next to.

We continued with this blessing from the end of 2 Corinthians: "The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of the Father and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." The family responded, "And also with you." Then we ended with the Lord's Prayer said together. The praise team sang songs that fit the theme of celebrating the table of forgiveness and confrontation of our sin.

"The table is a place where Jesus receives sinners and confronts the self-righteous. The table is the place where Jesus extends grace to seekers, but condemns the self-righteous. Jesus is willing to eat with sinners in order to invite them into the kingdom . . ." (John Mark Hicks)

Through the power of Christ we receive forgiveness at the table, and we grow to more deeply understand that we come as sinners redeemed by grace.

We did this today in the context of a series called Fearless Families. The principle for today is "Fearless Families Come to the Table." The table ministry was important in Jesus life. He ate with sinners and the self-righteous. The table is where we receive grace but get confronted. Even in contemporary culture, we say "let's come to the table" to settle disputes and draw up a truce. The table is where we work out conflicts. I told a story of Robert Webber about when he went to a Shabbat at the home of his friend, Rabbi Eckstein. From  A Book of Family Prayer, Webber says,

As we were taking off our coats, (Bonnie, Rabbi's wife) pointed to a number of candles burning at the side table. For of those candles represent our family,” she said, “and each of the other four is lighted in honor of your presence.” I felt welcome!

. . . as we sat down Rabbi Eckstein said, “This is a very special meal not only because you are here, but because this meal represents the beginning of our Jewish Shabbat. It’s a day of rest, a time to remember our Creator and Redeemer, a time to be with the family, a time to establish and deepen our relationships . . .”

. . . he took a small loaf of freshly baked bread, broke it, and passed it around the table, bidding us to eat as a sign of our thanks to God. Again, pouring wine into a cup, he lifted it, repeating a Jewish prayer of thanks for the fruit of the vine and, passing it around the table, bade us drink as a sign of our thanks to God. After another prayer our meal began.

We ate and engaged in conversation that was more than talk. It was communication about our lives, our families, our values, our dreams.

He concluded with more prayers, some sung in Hebrew . . . And although I could not understand the language, the sense of awe and reverence before the Lord came over me and raised my spirits to the praise of God.

My friend . . . looked at his wife and in English spoke of his love for her and of his good fortune in having her as his wife. Then, calling his children to his side, he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them, sent them happily off to play.

This observance of a weekly Sabbath meal with its prayers and blessings was such a rich experience for Webber, that he really felt his Christian experience with the table needed improvement. He wanted to come up with similar ways to bring Jesus--his life, death, resurrection, rule--into the regular meal times of his own family.

What he came up with is The Book of Family Prayer that helped his family make more of God and each other in their meal times.

Perhaps your family struggles, as mine does, with sitting down together for meals. And when we do our ways around the table can be a bit barbarian and brief. Thank you for the meat, dear Lord, let’s eat. A few minutes of eating and talk and we’re up again doing something else.

So Webber came up with some readings and prayers that help families around the table to redeem this time and extend love, acceptance, confrontation, resolution--to make it a place where we deepen our relationships with each other and with God.

Now there are lots of ways families do this . . .

One mom has her children read a new word from the dictionary and they’d discuss this word.

My mother and father have always been diligent to pray before meals and they have always waited to eat for every one to gather and pray.

A certain man in our church wanted to deepen prayer in his family table times. He suggested each family member say a prayer each night, but some were ruffled because free-form prayers were difficult. So it was suggested he get a devotional book and each person take a night and read the prayers and scriptures. Better.

A modest “better and better” is what we’re after, not some forced spirituality but simple readings around the meal . . .

The book goes by the Christian year and has prayers and readings for a weekly family observance. It also includes special prayers for birthdays and other important happy or sad times in family life. Webber’s book gives practical suggestions and scripture readings for a regular meals and special occasions. This is how I've distilled down some of the advice he gives.

  1. Plan one nice meal each week.
  2. Get a devotional book and plan readings.
  3. Involve everyone in reading.
  4. Do not force spirituality. Just do the readings with sincerity and purposefulness.
  5. Strike a balance between written prayers (that can fit circumstance better) and spontaneous prayers (that may be more heartfelt).

Striking this balance between written and spontaneous prayers is sort of like a greeting card . . . you pick out one that has the message you want, but you also want to write something yourself.

The table may be the most important piece of furniture not only in our homes but also in our churches. The communion table is one way our Father continues to communicate forgiveness to us, confronts us, helps us work out our conflicts and come face to face with each other and with God. I think we did that Sunday at Garnett.