I recently returned from Lancaster, England, where I participated in the European Christian Workshop. It was a wonderful event and I enjoyed my association with that group of Christians immensely.
Asked to speak five times about the table (Lord’s Supper), my final lesson was thematic. I wanted to share it with you since it is a different angle than what is present in some of my other writings on the topic.
I suggested three perspectives from which to view the table:
- Jesus on the Table–the sacrifical victim who nourishes us with new life
- Jesus at the Table–the hospitable host who welcomes all to the table
- Jesus serving the Table–the master who waits on tables
Today: Jesus on the Table.
I have sometimes heard it said that our assemblies should be reverent and solemn because “the dead body of Jesus is on the table.” I understand that is arises from thinking about Jesus as the sacrificial victim who gave his life for others. “This is my body which is given for you” or “This is my blood which is poured out for many.” This connects the table to the cross since Jesus gave his body on the cross and poured it out at the cross. We eat the sacrificial victim just as Israel ate the Passover lamb and their thanksgiving sacrifices.
However, there is something amiss here. Is it the “dead body of Jesus” on the table? I think not. Do we eat the dead body of Christ? I think not. For one thing, Jesus is not dead but alive.
My point is not about whether it is a literal body/blood or not, but what body/blood is offered to us in eating and drinking. Are we nourished in the Supper by the dead body of Jesus or the living, resurrected body of Christ?
This is where it is helpful to bring John 6 into the discussion where Jesus uses that strong, even offensive, language that except we eat his flesh and drink his blood we will not have eternal life. In the context of John 6, the flesh and blood of Jesus are not understand as dead or sacrificed but as living nourishment. It is the living flesh and blood of Jesus–it is the living Christ–which nourishes us. To eat the flesh of Jesus and to drink his blook is to intake life, an eternal life. It is to experience eschatological life, the life of the resurrected Jesus.
Resurrection language undergirds the teaching of Jesus in John 6. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life and “I will raise him up on the last day” (6:40). Jesus is the living bread of life, and those who eat partake of life, eternal life. It is the flesh and blood of the eschatological, resurrected Son of Man that is given to us for eating and drinking. We don’t eat dead but living flesh. We don’t drink dried up blood but living blood.
Here is one way to visualize this. I imagine that in eating and drinking we are lifted up into the presence of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit takes us into the throne room of God to feed on Christ, that is, to be nourished by the power of his resurrected life. Through our concrete, material, physical eating and drinking, the Spirit pours life into us by virtue of the life-giving reality of Jesus Christ. In this way, the Supper is, as Ignatius long ago said, a “medicine of immortality” (Ephesians 20:2). The Supper is a means by which we are nourished by and experience eternal life–a common theme in the Orthodox tradition over the centuries.
When Jesus was raised from the dead, he ascended to the right hand of the Father. There he reigns as new human, the first of the new creation. His humanity is now life-giving and through him all creation will be renewed. When we eat and drink, we participate in the new creation as we feed on his body and drink his blood, as we are nourished by new creation itself.
This feeding and drinking calls us to a new creation life even now. We are new creatures in Christ; we are empowered by his resurrected life. To eat and drink is to embrace the practice of new creation and mission of God for his creation.
Jesus is on the table through the bread and wine. But it is not the dead body of Christ, but the living, resurrected new creation. The living Christ is on the table and offers life everlasting but life as new creatures even now.