When I was a young boy, my mum, dad, sister and I, used to gather around the kitchen table for dinner every night. The reason why we gathered around the kitchen table, was because our house was only small and didn’t have a dining room. Of course that all changed when my sister and I became teenagers, because then we sat in the lounge-room in front of the TV every night to eat dinner!
I imagine that most of you would have gathered with your own families around either the dining table or kitchen table to eat a meal. And of course that still happens today, although it’s more likely to be when people either go out to a restaurant, or visit a friend’s house to eat. People still gather together around a table to share food, company and conversation.
One of the most basic symbols of the Christian faith is a table. We might call it the altar, the altar table, or the Lord’s table. But whatever name it goes by, every church has one. It symbolises one of the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith; that all are welcome to gather around the table to share in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Like the very first Christians, we come together to break bread. It is the basic act of Christian worship, and it was given to us by Jesus himself, via the ‘Words of Institution’ that he uttered at the Last Supper. It is also very human. Meeting over a meal is a natural, and wonderful, way of bringing people together. But food isn’t the only thing that creates hospitality. The friendship offered by the person hosting or organising the meal, creates that hospitable place where conversations can take place and relationships develop.
In the Eucharist, God is the one who offers such hospitality. God is the host, and we are the guests.
The reason why I’m talking about the Eucharist, is because the passage we heard today, from the Gospel of John, is full of “Eucharistic language”. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels–Matthew, Mark and Luke–the Gospel according to John does not contain an account of Jesus giving the Apostles the Words of Institution at the last Supper.
Many scholars argue, that this passage, is in fact, John’s way of talking about Jesus giving us the ritual of the Eucharist. I really love the words of verse 56, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”. I think it really speaks to us of the physical encounter that we have with Jesus when we receive the sacraments of bread and wine each week. And that physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is critical.
A central belief of the Christian faith is the incarnation; the belief that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus. ‘In the Scriptures, the term the body of Christ is used to refer equally to three things: the historical body of Jesus, the body of believers, and the Eucharist.’
When the Apostle Paul refers to either the community of believers or the Eucharist, he doesn’t suggest that they are like Jesus, that they replace Jesus, that they are symbolic representations of Jesus, or even that they are a mystical presence of Jesus.
For Paul, each is that place in our world where God takes on concrete flesh. Along with the community of believers, the Eucharist is God’s physical presence, God’s real presence in the world; it is the place where God continues to take concrete physical flesh just as he once did in the womb of Mary.
We get the term Eucharist from the Greek word eucharistia, which means thanksgiving. The related verb, eucharistesas, appears in the Words of Institution in Mark 14:23–24 when it says, ‘Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”.’ From that action of Jesus giving thanks to God during the Last Supper, we get the name for the service of worship that we take part in every Sunday morning.
So we can say that our Sunday worship is essentially a service of thanksgiving. Have you ever thought about it that way?
So it’s worth remembering that when we gather here in church together every Sunday morning as the body of Christ, that we are collectively giving thanks to God, and that we are encountering God in the sacrament of Holy Communion, which is God’s physical presence, God’s real presence in the world.