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.

Gratitude and Justice
Deeper into Your Love and Compassion - A Slow Church Benediction.
Ragan Sutterfield - This is my Body [Patheos Book Club]
Scot McKnight - A Fellowship of Differents [Patheos Book Club]

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