There has been a lot of talk over the last month about what makes a church. How do we define its actions and, most importantly, how are we supposed to act in this season of separation? The reality is, at this moment, we are not assembling. We are not physically gathering together, hearing the voices of our church family raised in song, passing the elements, hugging one another, or sharing life together. In the absence of our normal routines, it is understandable that we would begin to make compromises as an attempt to find what normalcy we can. However, I hope this post will encourage you to use this season as a time to allow your heart to feel the weight of that longing and grow your desire for the communion of saints without compromising the integrity of the things we hold dear. Specifically, I want to address the theology of the Lord’s Table, in absence of the gathered body.
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.”
1 Cor. 11:33-34
One of the questions we have been asked is, “Why are we not doing a virtual communion during this season?” It’s a good question, and we acknowledge there are other church bodies who have been observing the Lord’s Table virtually, but we do not feel this is the most biblically accurate representation or purpose of the Table. Paul gives a hearty admonition to the Corinthian church to be prudent in how they come to the Table. It is not a trivial matter, but one that requires humility, reflection, and community. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul was clear that the Table should be a communal activity of the church. In chapter 11, he rebukes those who are seeking only to serve themselves through the Table at the exclusion of the rest of the church. They are not exercising proper judgement towards one another. Also, as we see in the text, there is far more at work than a simple meal. For he openly encourages them to eat at home if in need of food, then come to the Table to be with your family. For the Table is much more than food, it is a meal with the family of God, in communion with Christ, lived out in humility and forgiveness, expecting and practicing for the great wedding feast of the Lamb.
However, these are not the only things we can glean from Christ’s institution of the Table and Paul’s admonition. We also see that the fencing and admonition given at the Table have no bearing if we freely partake in our homes, as we are not engaged with other believers calling us to repentance or forgiveness. Christ gave the church the command to practice this together as we await His return, where we will eat it with Him in Paradise. It is in this waiting that we truly see the need to be assembled together at the Table. The Table reminds us of the price paid for our sins, the Savior who paid it, and that we are not alone in this salvation. When we come to the Table, we are not alone; we are together as God’s people, living in anticipation of the feast to come.
So, as we yearn for the great day of the Lord and the feast we will experience as His bride, so too in this season we wait and yearn for the feast we share together. Therefore, our hearts should reflect to a degree what Israel felt in exile: a yearning to return home, a desire to experience the wonder of the temple again, and sadness over what has been lost. Oh how sweet it will be when all is returned, when we feast again with our church family, when we hear the voice of our neighbors sing songs of victory in the midst of sadness, when we see the wonder of baptism and new life spring from the ashes of death, when we marvel at God’s work day by day around us.
May our weeping be turned to singing on the day we gather together once more at the table.