Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fencing the Table

My Presbytery today moved over to a completely different approach to handling our meetings. For the past several years, the National Capitol Presbytery has run meetings like, well, business meetings. We had an agenda. We used parliamentary procedure. There was debate and dissent and political maneuvering...and the meetings could go on and on and on. It wasn't something I tended to look forward to.

Today, the Presbytery meeting was part of the new model, meaning mostly worship. We gathered in small groups at tables. There was a lecture on Scripture, and then small group discussion, followed by a sermon, and more discussion, after which we shared Communion. It was actually sorta fun, and the discussions were both intellectually and spiritually engaging. The focus of the day was Mark 14, and as part of our conversations about the dynamics of the Christian communion meal, I bumped into something I can't quite recall having encountered before.

Meaning, I probably have encountered it, but I just don't remember. One of the great things about getting older is that I get to experience so many things again for the first time.

As we discussed the meaning of the Lord's Supper in the context of Mark and the other synoptic Gospels, I popped over to 1 Corinthians 11 to make sure that the Apostle Paul's perspective was included in our small group conversation. What whapped me upside the head about Paul's description of the communion meal was the very particular way he "fenced the table."

What "table-fencing" means, for thems of you who don't follow the in-group talk of Jesus people, is keeping out the folks who don't belong. The bread and grape juice that comprise the Lord's Supper are part of something sacred, so we need to boot the unworthy. It is, quite literally, excommunication.

Many churches set and enforce particular standards based on Paul's assertion that eating and drinking the Lord's Supper with the wrong attitude is "sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." People who run afoul of those standards are not welcome at the Lord's table. Keep 'em out! No Christ for You!

But if you get past our human love of sticking out our tongues at people we don't like, and actually read Paul, that isn't what he tells us to do at all. He never says, not ever, that our task is to judge others worthy or unworthy of the communion meal. What he says is this:
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:28-31)
It is not "figure out who doesn't meet our standards." It's "take a hard look at ourselves, to see if we meet Christ's standards."

There's a huge, huge difference there.