The Hope-full Politics of the Table

 

The following is a reflection that I will share tomorrow night as part of the Election Day Communion service here at Englewood Christian Church.

Why celebrate communion on election day?

To do so is not merely a religious act, we have intentionally chosen to break bread together — not to have a worship or prayer service (good as those things are).  Tonight on the eve of this election day, we are celebrating our unity in seeking the Kingdom of God together.  But for many people, I imagine, the Kingdom of God is an abstract and nebulous thing.  Perhaps we should think of the Kingdom in an incarnational, embodied way.  After all, Jesus himself observed that the “Kingdom of God is within you (all).”  Just as Jesus was incarnated — took on human flesh — in a particular time and place, so too, the Reign of God emerges as we submit ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in all the particularity of our local congregations. And at the center of the our life together lies a political act, eating together. Jesus on the night he was betrayed, instructed his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.”  But as John Howard Yoder and others have pointed out, to what does the pronoun “this” refer?  The example of the early church demonstrates, Yoder argues, that they understood Jesus’ words as referring to neither the Passover meal nor a religious ritual of bread and cup. Rather, they understood Jesus as saying that we remember him, whenever we share a meal together.  The words remembrance and remembering are also significant.  To remember something, is to bring it to life again, in a manner of speaking to give it arms, legs, etc., thus to re-member or re-embody it.  Such remembrance is a political act, as we embody (and re-embody) Christ together, we do so within the life and shape of a particular place.

The eucharistic table then is not only at the center of our worship as followers of Jesus, it is also at the center of our politics.  Ultimately politics is the caring for the places in which we dwell and for the neighbors who dwell here with us.  At the table, we learn an economic politics of sharing.  Yoder observes that “[Bread] is daily sustenance. Bread eaten together is economic sharing. Not merely symbolically, but also in fact, eating together extends to a wider circle the economic solidarity normally obtained in the family.” (Body Politics, 20)  At the table, we learn a politics of hospitality, welcoming the stranger and sharing our sustenance with her or him.  At the table, we learn a politics of dialogue, learning to talk together in a world that is increasingly marked by a lack of dialogue, particularly across the partisan divide.

So what does this politics of the table that we are learning have to do with the politics of our city, state and nation? Certainly, these each have some degree of bearing on the life of our places, but they each are respectively another level removed from the incarnational  politics of the local church.  Maybe we participate in these broader forms of politics, and maybe we don’t, and there are a multitude of forms that our participation might take — among which voting is only one. But regardless, our participation must take a backseat to the politics of the Kingdom of God that is unfolding in our neighborhood as we continue to regularly eat, and live and be an embodiment of Christ in this place.

Tonight, we celebrate a politics of hope, a hope confirmed in the resurrection of Christ, who is remembered in our very midst, as we share our lives together around the table, eating and talking.  We celebrate a politics of not of greed and self-interest, but of the self-emptying generosity of Christ, who preferred others to himself and gave everything, even his life, that we might know life in abundance.  The life and hope of Christ flows outward from our common table, forming us as we engage our neighbors and those from other places.  The world is being transformed and will continue to be so, but not by the political parties, corporate lobbying interests or other powers of this age; the transformation will be slow and attentive and will be grounded in the grassroots movement of local communities of Christ’s followers who share their food and their lives together from day to day. This transformation is the hope that we are celebrating tonight; it is the hope that energizes us and the hope that will be the salvation not just of us as individuals, but of the creation as a whole.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    Well said. Thank you for this wonderful reflection. I hope to hear similar words when I choose to break bread with brothers and sisters tomorrow.

  • Joanna

    I appreciate you putting forward the idea of communion as political act. (And, as a Mennonite pastor, I always love it when people quote Yoder :-) Blessings on your service tonight. I will also be serving at the table here in Kansas.

  • Elbon Kilpatrick

    Friends,

    Is voting anti-Gospel? Of course not! Is voting evil? Of
    course not! Is voting violence? Of course not! If I am asked to vote for my
    favorite bread, and I vote for raisin bread, have I done something contrary to
    the teaching of Jesus, something evil or something violent? Of course not!

    But, suppose I, as a Christian, am asked to vote for someone
    to kill my enemies or to kill the enemies of others, would voting here be
    contrary to the teaching of Jesus? Would it be evil? Would it be violence?

    Can a Christian support someone doing evil that he or she
    cannot morally do personally? Can I, as a follower of Jesus, vote for someone
    to do what I cannot morally do myself because it is
    contrary to the will of God as revealed by God Incarnate, Jesus, e.g., kill enemies? Is killing
    enemies by selecting a surrogate to kill them—in the womb, in the electric
    chair and/or on the battlefield—living according to Jesus’ command to “Love your
    enemies,” and His “new commandment,” “Love one another as I have loved you”? “Proxy Christianity,”
    Christians supporting and selecting others to do evil on their behalf or on the
    behalf of a third party, is spiritual and moral absurdity.

    Voting is not intrinsically anti-Gospel, evil or violence.
    Voting is anti-Gospel, evil or violence depending on its object, that is, on
    what is being voted on or for. When voting requires the use of a Christian’s
    free will and life’s time to support and/or select someone to do what is
    contrary to the will of God as revealed by Jesus, voting is anti-Gospel, evil
    and violence.

    Ultimately, a Christian votes or does not vote in a
    particular situation, on the same basis that he or she makes every other decision of
    their Christian life. A Christian votes or does not vote not on the basis of
    the delusional preposterousness that he or she possesses the requisite
    knowledge and the scales to calculate the lesser of two evils, but rather on
    the basis of fidelity to Jesus and obedience to His teaching about the will of
    God. A, “No,” to evil is as important as a, “Yes,” to good, if truth and living
    the truth have any meaning in human existence in time or in eternity. There is
    only one reality and one Creator of reality and therefore what is morally good
    cannot be pragmatically wrong. Mutatis mutandis, what is morally evil cannot be pragmatically right. “In the
    beginning was the Word (Logos)… and through Him all things were made… and the
    Word became flesh and dwelled among us,”
    and taught the Nonviolent Sermon on the Mount and the Nonviolent Sermon on the Cross as the Father’s
    will.

    Voting, where evil is involved, is a faith issue. In whom do
    I believe, whose truth will I follow, support and validate with my life’s
    choice?

    But, for the Christian who places Cicero’s, Augustine’s,
    Aquinas’, etc. just war theories, just capital punishment theories etc. on the
    same level, or above, Jesus’ explicit teaching of Nonviolent Love of friends
    and enemies, voting for people to kill his or her enemies and/or the enemies of
    others is no problem. For whatever or whomever he or she votes for out of their
    “Proxy Christianity,” there will always be a Christian just war theory loophole
    to morally validate them—in their own eyes.

    -Emmanuel Charles McCarthy


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