The church the apostle Paul saw, the church he lived and died for, was often, if not largely, a church situated around the table. It was formed around prayer, scripture, song, the Lord’s Supper, and a meal – all at the table.
Some theologians believe that the Lord’s Supper is the meeting that gives the Church her true gathered identity; it was what marked God’s people out.
It wasn’t something added, or occasionally celebrated; it was the heart and soul of the gathering rationale of God’s church. The church pivoted around the Lord’s Supper, focusing on the redemptive story of Jesus that is best understood in the bread and wine, and usually embedded in meal and table.
Table and the Lord’s Supper lived off/around each other, whereas we have separated them, and maybe, in so doing, have robbed the church of a spiritual and life-giving dynamic only available in a meal that incorporates the bread and wine.
It is usually the people that eat together that last the longest.
Added to this is the consideration that our view of the Lord’s Supper defines how we gather. If we have a memorial view, in which the bread and wine are essentially symbols (even signs) that remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, then the pressure for a consistent proclamation is lessened; the Lord’s Supper or Communion is not the focus of our gathering, but an element (albeit a very important one) of gathering.
The Reformation centered the church around the priority of scripture. The 20th/21st century has centered the church around leadership and structure.
We should not jettison these correctives. They bring elements suppressed or lost, but they can’t claim to be everything. Where scripture is primary, the Spirit invariably will take a back seat. Where leadership is primary, hierarchy will always develop, and abuse (in all its variants) will, sadly, be more prevalent.
If we have a sacramental-ised view in which the Lord’s Supper is administered solely by the Priest (the domain of high Anglicans and Roman Catholics) then the whole idea of the table becomes anachronistic or ceremonial at best; hierarchy determines the how, when, why, and who. Interestingly the Roman Catholic church has a very high view of the Eucharist – it can’t be said that they have side-lined nor underappreciated the Lord’s Supper. Our questions are about structure and content.
If we are somewhere in the middle of these views (the Lutheran perspective), we are more likely to see the presence of Christ as a vital and substantive part of gathering, and if this is so the Lord’s Supper takes on a critical aspect in defining what is the church, and how/when does she meet. Jesus is present to the church in/under the elements of the bread and wine. His body and blood are mystically and ‘really’ present.
If we treasure his presence and power, we are going to have to decide how we celebrate Communion, and where it fits in the life and calendar of the church. It may change how we see the church, and how we do church.
To summarise, how we perceive the Lord’s Supper helps determine how we meet, when we meet, and even who is to meet.
How we do this, how we reconfigure (if indeed we need to) isn’t something that is likely or preferable to happen overnight. We have all seen sincere attempts to make home/table the focus of the church. These attempts usually come too little as it is a culture change that is required, not a meeting time/place rearrangement. We default in the West to Sunday public meetings, and this is unlikely to change in the short term.
It must begin in our teaching, and our example – our own tables aren’t unimportant in this process. It may take quite some time, and/or it may be accelerated by situations beyond our expectations or control. We could be forced into change; the table may become the only option, not one of many, for how God’s church congregates. Time will tell.