Except, it isn’t like a family meal, is it? I mean, if we were gathered at my house for a family meal, my specialties tend towards things like a stir-fry of vegetables and chicken over rice, or, my mom’s famous spaghetti sauce, or, chili. I don’t believe I’ve ever set a table with just these two items, bread and juice, simple, unadorned. And if I did… honestly, at my house, there would be a lot more. Big hunks of bread, pitchers of juice, so that no one would leave with a growling stomach. But we’re not in my house. We’re in a house where each of us, every one of us, including me, is a guest. And we’re at a table, around which all our individual stories yield, on this night, to one story, the one story we share as people of faith. So, it’s like a family meal, and it’s not like a family meal.
Paul, with the good folks at First Church of Corinth, had his hands full. They gathered together to share a meal. But at Corinth, something had gone very wrong. Paul describes it in the passage just before our reading starts. He says,
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? ~1 Corinthians 11:20-22a
The people of Corinth gathered around a dinner table in a home—and it was inevitably the home of one of the wealthiest members of the community, because—who else could afford that kind of space, to welcome large numbers of people? And in those days, the more you had, the more you got. So, the wealthiest members of the community could arrive earlier, get a head start on their eating and drinking, and they would be served the superior food and wine, the best of the best. The poorest members of the community could only arrive much later, after their long workday had ended, and they would get the leftover food and inferior drink, the dregs. As Paul so eloquently put it, “What!” This is the Lord’s supper?
And he answers his own rhetorical question. No. This is not the Lord’s supper. And he reminds them,
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
~ 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
Jesus, on the night he was to be betrayed by one of his dearest friends and companions, gathered with them around a table. He took a loaf of bread, and he gave thanks for it, and he broke it, and he gave it away. And he said, “This is my body. This is my life.” Jesus took the life that God had given him, and he gave thanks for it, and allowed it to be broken and given away.
This is why we gather. This is why, it is very much like a family meal, and not at all like a family meal. This is the story we share, our story, the story of God in Jesus, giving us, not only teaching, and beatitudes; not only healing and wholeness; it is the story of God giving us life, God’s own life, so that we will live.
And the life we are invited to have looks very different from a great big table around which only the wealthiest and most elite get to have all the goodies, while the poorest and most vulnerable go without. If we want to be part of that life—well, it’s all around us, it’s just outside these doors. It’s celebrated in popular culture, on TV and in music and online, and it’s advocated by political parties as the American way. Some even try to say, it’s the Christian way. But, it’s not.
This is the way of Jesus: to take our lives and give thanks for them, and then to give them away. To be as concerned about what the person next to us is eating as we are about what we are eating. To be as concerned about the stranger who knocks on these door as we are about our own families. To give our lives away, not in exchange for bigger and glitzier and more fabulous lives, but more deeply fulfilling and loving and Christ-like lives.
The hope of lives modeled on Jesus is what brings us to gather around these tables tonight. Jesus, who gathered around a table with his loved ones to mark the Passover, the holiest night of his people. Jesus, who took his life and gave thanks for it, and allowed it to be broken and given away. Jesus, who even shared that life, that bread, that wine, with the one who had thirty pieces of silver jingling in his pockets, payment up front for a kiss.
Here we are, gathered around tables for our family meal. Everyone’s here who could make it. But even those who are not here—God’s people wherever they may be—are a part of this family, and a part of this story. We have before us, not a seven pr even three-course feast, but the very tangible reminder, the very real presence, of Jesus with us. Jesus, reminding us: we are one. My story is your story, as my table is your table. My life is your life, to be share with the whole beautiful and broken world. Thanks be to God. Amen.