Practicing good table manners

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

“The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Learning Table Manners

         I continue to work with my son on his table manners. He is learning, on his better days, how to set the table—how to prepare the table for the meal.  He has several blessings in his repertoire and is saying his own unique blessings, too. He knows that we say the blessing before we begin eating (on his better days).  Of course, his favorite stand-by is “God is great and God is good.  Let us thank God for our food.  By God’s hands, we are fed. Thank you Lord, for our daily bread.” Good table manners bring us together to offer thanks.

Good table manners also include conversation; my son knows that time at table means we share our days and our lives with each other.  Good table manners mean we respect and listen to each other.  We say “please” and “thank-you.” We don’t leave from each other until we’ve asked to be excused. Practicing good table manners means we eat in a way that honors and respects each other and the food before us.

 Corinthian Table Manners

         The church community in Corinth struggled with their table manners.  This congregation was composed of people from a wide spectrum of social and economic classes, from prosperous elite persons down to slaves.[1]  This diversity caused difficulty in their eating together as a church.  The wealthy wanted to retain their status and superiority when at the Lord’s Table. The poor were left out.

Their church gathered in a private home of a wealthy person, and those who had means were feasting on food and wine, while others in the community went hungry.  This practice of division is described in vv. 20-22-right before our text for today.  In their Greco culture, excluding the poor made perfect sense to the wealthy—in fact, they probably didn’t even think twice about what they were doing.  The nine or ten wealthy would recline at the table, while the poor of the community stood in the atrium.[2]  The wealthy would enjoy the best food and drink, without sharing it with the poorer members of the community.

The apostle Paul is trying to teach them in our letter today that the prosperous members’ practices comprise poor table manners—not acceptable for those who propose to be one family in Christ Jesus.  This egregious shaming of the poor is much worse than not saying ‘please’ or ‘thank-you’.  The wealthy of the Corinthian church are completely disrespecting their family in Christ.  Paul will not stand for such atrocious table manners.[3]

In response he reminds them about Jesus’ last meal in our text.  The Corinthian church is to take the bread, bless it, break it, and share it in the way that Christ taught.  By practicing the table manners of Jesus, the community will remember who and whose they are.  The apostle Paul highlights twice that they are to do this “in remembrance of me.” By all sharing in the meal, they point to the Christ whom they follow and remember his acts of salvation. By all eating the same bread and sharing in the same cup, they uphold good table manners—manners that reflect the love and justice of the kingdom of God. By all eating the same bread and sharing the in the same cup, they are literally “re-membered” from separate people into the one body of Christ.

Methodist Table Manners

         John and Charles Wesley practiced good table manners among the early people who were called Methodists.  They would often eat at table in the large residence they helped to create that provided housing for widows (often who were single moms) and their children.  John Wesley rejoiced in the communion they shared there. Charles Wesley’s hymn “Come, Sinners to the Gospel Feast,” expresses these good table manners.  Wesley writes, “Let every soul be Jesus’ guest.  Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bid all humankind.”  What a wonderful statement of Pauline theology to the Corinthians—all are welcome at the feast, rich and poor, prosperous and not.  Good table manners for the early Methodists meant that all were included and welcome at the sacrament.

John Wesley, in keeping with Paul and with Anglican theology, thought that the sacrament helped us to remember and to actually represent the sacrifice of Christ for us.  Wesley affirms that the bread and wine hold the real presence of Christ  (though it is not transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Christ, as in the Catholic view).  John Wesley teaches in his sermon on the “Duty of Constant Communion” that believers should partake of the sacrament of communion as often as they can, for it “pardons our sins and strengthens and refreshes our souls.”  Jesus commands us to do this “in remembrance of him” and the Lord’s supper offers us infinite mercy.[4]

Our Table Manners

          For this mercy we can only practice good manners, and say “thank you.” In our own practice of table we are called to welcome all to the table, rich and poor, sinner and saint.  In a culture of sharp socio-economic divides, where common tables are few, we proclaim that all are welcome here.  Good table manners mean that no one is left behind, no one is left out in the atrium, all have a place around the table.

Even more, we come to the table with folks in our own community with whom we may not always enjoy rubbing elbows.  The mercy at the table is for all of us to feast upon, that we might try the hard work of being one body in Christ.  In remembrance of Christ’s actions of love for us, we try to love those in our own church community whom we would rather exclude. Practicing good table manners means we eat in a way that honors and respects each other and the food before us.  We don’t take leave from each other, to be excused from the work of being Christ’s body. We allow Christ to “re-member us” into Christ’s own body. We offer thanks. “By God’s hands, we are fed. Thank you Lord, for our daily bread.”  

[1] Richard Hays, 1st Corinthians in Interpreter Bible Commentaries, 7.

[2] Murphy-O’Conner, St. Paul’s Corinth, 153-61.

[3] Hays, 197.

[4] John Wesley, John Wesley’s Sermons:  An Anthology, 505.

Yoga

In our practice we will engage in partner yoga.  Partner yoga utilizes the strength of community to enhance each person’s practice.  We will pair up in twos to do some poses and offer support.  We will also practice as a community vrksasana, or tree pose, in a circle, utilizing each other for balance and finding that we grow more stable when we stand together.

In this Maundy Thursday yoga practice, we will end in a circle with a celebration of Holy Communion.

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