The Common Good

The Unworthy Table

I love food. I love food even more when it's shared with people. Some of my fondest memories with friends and family happened while sharing food. My husband and I shared our first date over a meal, and we got engaged over a meal. There's something about sitting around a table partaking in sustenance for our bodies that also fills our soul and our hearts. That's probably why I love communion so much.  

So I was struck by Paul’s anger over food in 1 Corinthians 11. Granted, Paul comes off angry in other letters as well, but this one I decided to linger on for awhile because of verse 27: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord."    

Paul's letter is directed to a community in Corinth that was made up of the poor, the working class, and the rich. They lived together, shared communion with each other, and sought to be a community that reflected Christ. Now, this doesn’t seem too different from what we do at church today. But unlike how we celebrate communion — as it’s own “event” during service — for the 1st century Christians, communion was part of a real meal. 

So what could be so "unworthy" about this shared meal?  

Well, it failed to reflect "one body." We can guess from verse 33, that they were not waiting for each other to share the meal. We can also assume that the wealthy, who did not have to work, gathered early for the meal and ate and drank before the working class and the poor came to share in the meal — or what was left of the meal. Perhaps, those that gathered earlier ate and drank all of the good stuff and left what they didn't want for everyone else.    

When I was younger, my mom would offer a plate of treats to my brother and me, and regardless of whether we liked this treat, we would count how many pieces we could both eat. Sometimes it was an even number — war avoided. Sometimes it was an odd number, and we would watch each other eating each piece, while keeping one eye on that last morsel of goodness.  

The problem that Paul is bringing attention to in this letter is that this Christ-community failed to understand what it means to be "one body" and in essence violated what communion is all about — the selflessness of Christ and the love that exists for all. They sullied the call to be a Christ-community and — much like my brother and me during our younger days — brought to the table divisiveness, segregation, and greed, ultimately denying the greatness of the gift. 

Those that sat around the table early only thought of themselves and the food that was available. You can argue that they at least thought about those on their way and left them leftovers. But I have the nagging suspicion that they didn’t take the time to reflect on the plight of those on their way from a hard day of work or of those struggling to find work. 

As I reflect on this passage juxtaposed to all the events of the election, I wonder how many of us are eyeing what we believe is ours or struggling to make ends meet with the leftovers we find at the table. Or how many of us are looking at those sitting at the table with us, but neglecting to see those that are on their way to the table — the working class and poor.  

Once a month, I take part in communion at my church. I'm reminded to stop from the busyness of life and to remember the one that calls all of us to the Table. It’s a humbling reminder, because as much as I am in awe of the sacrificial love represented by the sacraments — it doesn’t end there. 

I am not nourished by the bread and wine alone, but am sustained knowing that I am participating in the kingdom of God now, in this time and place as I stand true to the calling at the Table to be my brother's keeper and my sister's keeper. It's in this realization that I recognize that this election is not about my wants and desires; its asking the question am I protecting my own or extending God’s own.   

As we mindfully pray and vote, here’s something to think about: Are we being like those in the Corinth community that shared an “unworthy” Table, or will we be creating a worthy Table beckoning the kingdom of God into this world? 

Aimee Kang is office manager for Sojourners.

Communion image, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

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