Preparing for Eucharist

Preparing for Eucharist May 2, 2010

EucharistCup.jpgThe Eucharist, whether you celebrate and participate daily, weekly, monthly or otherwise, needs to be seen as a Table instead of an Altar. The apostle Paul calls it the “Lord’s Table” in 1 Cor 10:1 and on the table food was served.

At the altar, blood was spilled or poured out; what was sacrificed in the Temple was then eaten at the Table. The Altar for the Christian is the Cross; the Table is for the Lord’s Supper.
At the Altar, the sinner is forgiven; at the Table the forgiven sinner communes with God.
The cross is a place of sorrow; the Table a place for joy.
So, if you today are celebrating Eucharist, ponder the difference between Altar and Table, and imagine yourself at the Lord’s Table to give thanksgiving for the joy of communing with God in the forgiveness of sins.
I base this first in a series on John Mark Hicks, Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper
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  • JoanieD

    “At the Altar, the sinner is forgiven; at the Table the forgiven sinner communes with God. The cross is a place of sorrow; the Table a place for joy.”
    I like that very much, Scot, and I agree.

  • Paul Williams

    “Ponder”ing “the difference between Altar and Table,” and the difference is stunning and attitude changing! I am very glad to be able to share in the table not only with the One who allows communion with Himself, and with all saints!

  • Watch out, us Church of Christ people are influencing your theology. See you in a few days.
    Peace,
    Josh

  • Thanks, Scot. Helpful. I’ve never made that distinction between the table and the altar, oddly enough, and seems quite apt.

  • Terry

    Hicks’ vocabulary, which is new to me, freshens this perspective immensely. Let’s celebrate together!

  • Scot McKnight

    Josh, Hicks’ book is a very good one.

  • Hey, John Mark Hicks was one of my professor’s in seminary…great teacher and a great book.

  • Don

    Excellent Scot as we head to the TABLE today!

  • That raises an interesting question about the “altar call” as practiced in many churches: If we believe that the cross is the altar, and if we don’t believe (as the Catholics do) that in the Eucharist the sacrifice is re-presented, what “altar” are we calling people to at the front of the church?

  • The only proper description of “the table” as an altar is in the Catholic Mass, a liturgy that involves the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. If there is no sacrifice, there is no altar.
    The idea of altar doesn’t really make sense in the Protestant world, but in the Catholic mind the sacrifice of the Mass is central. Hebrews describes Jesus as the living high-priest. Central to this role of priest is the sacrifice he offers for his people. No sacrifice, no priest; giving sacrifices is what makes a priest a priest.
    I think this idea of altar/sacrifice also has deep ramifications for the ways that Catholics and Protestants each understand their faiths. Protestants come to “the table” only to be fed, which at times is a blunt form of spiritual consumerism; it doesn’t require much other than to show up. Whereas Catholics come to be fed (at “the table”), but also to participate in Jesus’ sacrifice, in addition; to give, to sacrifice.
    You are right in noting that after sacrifice, the sacrifice is consumed at the Table. This is the whole spirituality of the Eucharist, the literal body and blood of Jesus. We eat the sacrifice, as in the Passover.
    Without a proper understanding of sacrifice and Eucharist, I would argue that “the Table” and the “Lord’s supper” are incomplete and–to a certain extent–become incoherent.

  • Brad Schrum

    Thanks for highlighting good scholarship in churches of Christ. John Mark Hicks is a great theologian.

  • Gerard

    I can agree with this distinction, but does that mean that the Eucharist is always a celebration? As one who grew up in a tradition in which the focus was primarily on the death and thus the convicting message of the forgiveness of sins, I am all for more celebration. But, it seems to me that there is certainly a remembering that happens in the Eucharist, one that corresponds to the altar distinction you have given.
    I think there are several times during the liturgical year (i.e., Advent and Lent) that the Eucharist is received at the “altar.”

  • R

    Brandon (#10), I *think* that the Lutheran (consubstantial) position would be that “altar” is appropriate, not because the sacrifice is re-presented, but because the body of Christ is present.

  • elias

    scot,
    “The cross is a place of sorrow; the Table a place for joy.”
    I don`t agree with you. the table is a place for joy but the night when Jesus was arrested was not a Joyfull night and this table gave meaning to the cross as the cross gives meaning to the table. So I think the distinction is misleading. I don`t see alot of difference in calling it an altar or a table because this table was the new covenant table so (in my opinion) it can be called metaphorically an altar. Although I prefer table.

  • “Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God! Many will come from east and west and from north and south and sit at table in the kingdom of God. This is the Lord’s Table. Our Savior invites those who trust him to share the feast he has prepared…”
    “Come to this sacred table, not because you must, but because you may; come to testify not that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ, and desire to be his true disciples; come not because you are strong, but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on the grace of God, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of his mercy and help; come not to express an opinion, but to seek his presence and pray for his Spirit.” ~ The Covenant Book of Worship (Evangelical Covenant Church)

  • It is both/and not either/or.
    Also, it is not just for Roman Catholics but also for the Eastern Churches and the high church Anglicans as well.
    Furthermore, any theology that teaches a form of “real presence” demands this both/and approach to the eucharist. Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and many Reformed all teach real presence and thus would be omitting half of the eucharist’s meaning if they simply focused on celebration and the communal meal.
    These either/or statements are damaging to the unity of Christ’s body IMO.