The eschatological horizon reminds us that the root metaphor of the Eucharist is neither tomb nor altar, but table.
In some ways that sentence is sort of the thesis of my book Come to the Table. However, one dimension of the book that I wish I had emphasized more–and it is present in the book, but deserves a chapter devoted to it–is the eschatological horizon. In other words, through the Lord’s Supper disciples experience the eschatological joy of the risen Christ as he hosts our communal meal.
The link between the Supper and the second coming of Christ is acknowledged by all in light of 1 Corinthians 11:26. However this link is sometimes reduced to either a (1) temporal terminus; (2) a promised fact; or (3) a pledge of the future. In each of these, eschatology is wholly future.
This furturist theology exists alongside a memoralism and somtimes a present spiritual feeding (communion) on Christ (and thus, the past, present and future dimension of the table). The spiritual dynamic of the Lord’s Supper remains either memory and/or nourishment. There is no eschatological dynamic in the present but only an absent Christ whose return we await through memory and spiritual sustenance. Fundamentally, this lack of eschatological “alreadiness” engenders a solemn and funerary atmosphere that is more consistent with the metaphor of altar than table.
When the eschatological dimension of the table is neglected, the Supper is easily reduced to a singular purpose. The chief purpose of the Supper becomes to remember the death of Christ. Even “Eucharist” becomes a negative term because the Supper is about memorialism rather than thanksgiving.
When we reclaim, however, the “alreadiness” of the eschaton, and understand that the risen Christ is present at the table with us, joy and thanksgiving envelope the table. It is a place where we experience the already/not yet tension–Jesus is absent, but he is present. The Lord’s Supper is a continuation of the post-resurrection meals with his disciples but in a post-ascension situation. Our joy is already here, but is not yet fully realized.
When I visualize and experience the risen Christ at the table with us, a pleasant smile appears on my face. It is a smile that sometimes annoys those sitting around me in “church.” But it is a smile produced by the sense that I am already at the eschatological table with Jesus….and with Joshua, Dad, Sheila and with all the saints.
I have just submitted these perspectives in an essay for publication in a new book by IVP that extends the discussion begun in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement.