Eschatological Table

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.

6 Responses to “Eschatological Table”

  1.   Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Hi, John Mark.

    I just skimmed down through this post, but will go back a second time soon.

    The first time through prompted me to ask, Along this line, what are your thoughts on the last scene in the movie “Places in the Heart”?

    The first time I saw it, like most folks I was taken by surprise and it didn’t “work” very well for me (althought I liked the film as a whole). More recently, I’ve seen it another 2 or 3 times, and I have to say that the stories (plot and sub-plots) with that conclusion hit me like few other things ever have.

    I’d really appreciate it if you’d sort of intersect what you’ve said here and in your book with that scene from the movie.

    Oh, and a question for anyone who’s seen the film: Are some of participants in the final scene some of the klansmen in the story? Haven’t put all that together yet, but it seems like that’s the case.

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Yes, “Places in the Heart” is an excellent dramatization of the “alreadiness” of the table.

    I particularily like the contrast between the scene prior to the table and the scene as table. Prior to the table, only the living are present and they are all white. During the table, it is a diverse group of living and dead, black and white, murderer and murdered, etc.

    I don’t remember if the KKK members are present. I will have to watch for that next time I view it.

    But this scene in the movie offers a vision for seeing the table as part of the eschatological assembly–we are gathered with the saints, past and present, universal and local, at the table. We participate in the heavenly reality through eating and drinking here.

  3.   Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    I read this post late last night and had not had the opportunity to comment on it until now, but have been thinking a lot about it and found it so interesting and uplifting. What’s most interesting is that just this past weekend “Places in the Heart” happened to be on TV and so I watched it again for the first time in a very long time.

    Like Frank said, I found the table scene at the very end to be most profound. I had forgotten it because it had been so long since I’d last seen it. I thought that the KKK guys were present there because I was thinking about that as I watched it trying to decide how I felt about it and wondering what the movie maker was trying to “say.”

    They filmed the movie on location in Waxahatchie and I’m nearly positive that a good many of the people in the church scenes were local residents, which I found very interesting, as well, because it just added to the feelings that these were “real” Christians, perhaps, coming together to celebrate at the table.

    Maybe I’m all wrong about that, but in reading your thoughts and words and in thinking about the movie as it ended I am greatly encouraged by the ideas portrayed. It makes the whole idea and concept of “communing” together that much more significant. Thanks.

  4.   Serena Voss Says:

    John Mark,

    I remember you and your parents from Camp WaMaVa and from Alexandria. I probably have a picture or two of you from way back then. And then there was Mark Kirkpatrick and Jerry and Pat Ketchem….

    My family attended at Falls Church. I remember participating in the Ivan Stewart training and campaign that your dad organized. In fact, shortly after that, my dad, Kenneth Saunders became the Personal Evangelism director at Falls Church. Setting up home Bible studies was his passion.
    He passed away in 1999. He always thought a lot of your dad.

    Just thought I would drop in and say hi.

  5.   Serena Voss Says:

    Ooooops! I meant Mark Kilpatrick

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    perhaps you mean Jim Kilpatrick. I attended his funeral several Saturdays ago, and his kids and wife. He was one of my Bible school teachers as a teenager, my elder and my friend. He will be missed by many.

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