The Common Table

After 25 years in one particular church I’ve been walking around a little.  Hearing other voices, joining other groups in worship, seeing how God looks through other stained glass.  In case you haven’t been out there lately, there are a lot of different ways people live out their faith.  Every parishioner, settled or not, should go walking a few times a year, to humbly remind ourselves the form is not the substance, and our way is not the only way.

The Last Supper, John August Swanson, 2009.

Amazingly, the same foundation (e.g. following “Jesus” or “the bible”) can support a divergency of buildings.  Seemingly opposite political or social causes are championed on a Sunday.  Yet every conservative church, and every liberal church, and every church in between, are doing what they do because of life in Jesus.  Is this a contradiction?

I would rather say it’s complex, like the scriptures themselves.  From my walkabout church services, I’ve seen so much divergence but thankfully there is a moment of centrality common to all.  Which moment is it?

Scripture, Singing, Sermon

There will be scripture readings, but translations and time spent vary broadly.

There will be some singing: musical preferences, blah blah blah.

There will be a leader giving a homily, and likely some announcements, and with the call to action these will probably blur together.

This is where it gets interesting, because the scripture is the source, but the interpretation varies.  One offers an invitation to pro-life pray at a Planned Parenthood center, the other sermon starts with a history of “This is what democracy looks like” rallies.  One homily positively re-appropriates the word “queering” while another opens the bible to restrict “homosexuality”. One’s feeding programs share an explicit gospel message and the other is fine with the food itself being the message.   Amazingly it all comes from the same source: the life of Christ. I used my mad powerpoint skills to illustrate this: Political Cross

I’ve spent enough time on one side of that cross to know how hard it is to look past my view of Jesus and see his children on the other side.  It’s good that I’m looking at Jesus, but I can’t seem to see over him to his people on the other side.  If only we could all drop to the bottom of the cross and look up together.

Of course, this is normal, we are a tribal people and it makes sense that our God would be on our side.  We’re human.  We’re trying to understand the infinite.  There will be misunderstandings.

Receiving a Deep Love works its way out in different people in different ways, during different seasons of life.  What gets tricky is when one acts like the other doesn’t exist; or insists there is only one way to live out this Deep Love. We tell everyone they need to do it our way, except we call it “God’s way.”  We could learn from ourselves:  we much better at accepting the variety around the world than with our cross-town siblings.

(Listening to some people talk, you’d think that Jesus’ description of separating the sheep from the goats was actually about Democrats and Republicans. Though… he does refer to putting the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, so….hmmm… 1 point for the red states?).

The Last Supper, Frederick J. Brown, 1983, oil on linen.

But go with me back to the service – this is where it gets good:

The Table

Then all these – scripture, singing, sermon – culminate in that deeply deliberate walk to the communion table.  Christ’s body and blood await all who would come – “wherever you are on your journey” as they say at the Episcopal church.  Making the journey from our solitary seats, where we can actively listen or just be irritated by our neighbor’s cough, joining the streaming flow of humans forward, forward, forward we step, taking our place at the table.  The bread of life nourishes us, and we are hungry – our very walk forward declares it.  Our humanity meets heaven’s humanity, and the divine body is broken into bite size portions for we who can only understand piece by piece, week by week.  Christ’s outstretched hands await and we look into them, seeing nail scars that speak to our own life-is-hard narratives; we let our hands touch his and smear the blood, taking the cup. It’s the soul of the service.

With this painting kit from Amazon, you could choose which people are included at the table

No one mentions politics during communion.  No one has a cause to champion or a group of others to correct.  The Eucharist becomes very personal in a way that cannot happen when we’re alone.  People stream forward and kneel, or join into a circle, or genuflect, or receive a blessing of prayer, and for one moment at least, we are common humanity in need.

Is Eucharist like attending a mini-funeral every week? Death has the power to bring squabbling relatives together, laying aside their sermons to remember the goodness of the loved one.  Perhaps the universal shortness of life comes to us as we remember a particular death: as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

After communion, the services end with a call to action, and we’re back:  one is urging me to tell my neighbor about Jesus and the other to prayerfully support the March for our Lives rallies, to feed the poor or come do yoga, to help with the kids or the church garden.  And I will, because there’s too much trouble in this world to do nothing, and my soul itches to do something (see Helpless).

But slow down. Let me hold on to that moment of peace.  What if we always centered on communion? Where divinity touches humanity.  Where death reminds us to live.  Where the rights and lefts are forgotten and there’s only the centrality of the common table.

♦ weekendswell ♦

See more of my powerpoint figures and get notified of next post by clicking “Follow”

Footnotes for the overachievers:

Communion and Community both come from the same root word: common. For further reading, look at the three definitions of communion here, making sure to expand the section that says “Translations, word origins and more definitions”.

Featured image: The First Supper by Susan Dorothea White, Acrylic on Panel, 1988

The Last Supper, John August Swanson, 2009.  See Artist’s Notes

The Last Supper, Frederick J. Brown, 1983, oil on linen. More on Artist

The Last Supper Oil Paint by Numbers Kit, Amazon. I dare you.

8 Replies to “The Common Table”

    1. I agree, and while spirituality naturally works its way into the moral, social, and political, it’s risky to observe those three and assume we can work back to draw conclusions about the spiritual.


  1. Isn’t that what heaven will be like–coming together around a common table–actually the PERSON the table represents: Our Precious Lord Jesus Christ!!!
    LOVE your articulate pondersing…you always capture me and I find myself reading it again and again! THANKS!


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