Whanaungatanga: Table Fellowship

‘Practice makes Perfect, as the old saying goes. You have to believe this as you labour over the task of co-ordinating two small hands to create a melody and base, slouching over a musical instrument way too big for your body to embrace, all the while locked away, banished to a far away corner of a cold house to learn your piano accordion routine for the week. No one wants to listen to you while you practice, but when you are able to string a tune together you get pulled out of bed at midnight to entertain the guests at your parents’ party!

But over time and as you practice, the thing that seems impossible to achieve somehow becomes second nature. This master of sound is no longer a cumbersome weight that hangs off your shoulders, but somehow becomes an extension of yourself as the hands skillfully work the keys and button while at the same time your arms become strong enough to push and pull, to provide the pressure needed to enable the instrument to inhale and exhale the air in it’s bellows to produce the melodies…’

(memoirs of a 12 year old accordianist)

The Table Fellowship or Eucharist has held a central place in the Church since it’s inception by Jesus who, when eating the Passover Meal with his friends on the night before he died, broke bread and said, 

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.

Then pouring the wine said,

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you…

Luke 22: 19-20

Here Jesus is presenting and offering himself as bread and food, good food!

So week-by-week we partake in the practice of sharing the Eucharist, where we gather as a community around a Common table. We Give Thanks (Eucharist) and we Remember Jesus. We remember his sacrifice for us, yes, and we also remember who he was, what he said, how he loved and showed us how to love. 

As a practice, we need to know why we do this week after week, lest we become bored and overly familiar, and it loses it’s power to transform us. 

Yet, unlike practicing a musical instrument, the aim is not to perfect or somehow master it, even understand it, rather to become ONE with it, somehow instep with its mystery as an embodied and shared community experience. 

My early faith tradition was in the Anglican Church, where the eucharist was practiced weekly and held central place in the mass. I loved this moment. 

It was a sensory experience, a thing of beauty. The bread was placed in my mouth, which would be followed by a sip of wine from a beautiful chalice, a cup we would all share from. I can still feel the burning sensation of port trickling down my young throat. And it was an embodied experience. Posturing, waiting, kneeling, hands open, receiving, and tasting, this was an invitation into something real, real food, and something mysterious that this food also metaphored. 

But there were rules, procedures that needed to be adhered to before I was able to join in this beautiful moment. The text[1] was used to remind me of my sins, and of my need to examine myself lest I incur judgement and perhaps even die if I fail to do so! This was quite terrifying for a young person, and potentially contributed to my overarching concern that I had better get it right lest some fate befall me. I wonder if it still creates nervous tension and apprehension in people today as they faithfully attend and partake of this practice that is designed in essence to transform us. 

In actual fact Paul was addressing the Corinthians in the context of their regular ‘Love’ or ‘Agape’ Feasts (think good old church pot luck lunches!) where (it is held) the community would come together to share a meal (to remember Jesus), where the rich would bring more and the poor less, where some would eat too much and some would go home hungry. Paul actually rebuked them, accused them of gluttony and told them to eat at home before they came!! Paul’s strong admonishment was to ‘Wait for each other, examine the body’, take notice of each other and care for each other,  for ‘You are the Body of Christ’!  The sin he was referring to here was much greater than any individuals behaivoural issues, rather the partaking in ‘systemic or empiric’ sin, which is a community or societal issue, to be addressed by such.

So Have regard for This Body, the Body of Humanity, the Body of Creation…

We all know the saying, ‘You are what you Eat’ It resounds in our ears when we faced with health issues, and is used to encourage us to look after our selves.

Perhaps if we keep eating the Body of Christ we will become it.

[1]1 Corinthians 11

WhanaungatangaClint Gibson