Growing up, it was important that my family shared certain table manners when we ate together: Don’t start eating until everyone has been served; Don’t put your elbows on the table; Don’t reach across the table for food, ask for it to be passed; Ask if anyone would like the last roll before taking it. These courtesies were a way of respecting the rights of others as well as strengthening our family bond over a meal together. Being part of the family meal required certain actions and understandings on my part and developed certain formations within me.
As a Christian family, the Eucharist is our shared meal; the Table is where we gather. Thus, there are certain “manners” we must keep in mind while sharing the Eucharist.
In a time where a mindset of inward pietism has taken over much of Western Christianity, religion has been based on experience, likes and dislikes, and preference. The Table is seldom celebrated and has not been understood as the place of fellowship and formation but as a place of forgiveness. The focus is often more inward than outward. When we turn solely inward, we neglect ourselves and the body of Christ of receiving Christ and all His blessings.
A proper approach to the Table finds communal spiritual formation. We must understand that we do not come to the Table as individuals, because as a Christian people we are not individuals. We are a community of faith. If we claim God to be Trinity we also make the clam that by his very nature God is community. By joining with Christ (through baptism) we are brought into this loving community. James Torrance addresses this, stating that Christ “draws us into eternal communion with the Father by uniting us in communion with himself, and creates a reconciled community among men and women.”
Coming to the Table as a reconciled community, the Eucharist has a role in communal spiritual formation, but also gives a strong call to action, by the abundance Christ provides through the giving of Himself in the Eucharist. Acts 2:42-47 paints a beautiful picture of this reconciled community in action. The breaking of bread is not portrayed in terms of consumption but instead by generosity. As William Cavanaugh writes of it, “The consumer is the consumed.”
We must understand that the Eucharist does not tell a story of hunger and scarcity. Instead, Jesus makes the claim in John 10:10 that he has come that we “might have life, and have it abundantly.” Similarly, Jesus states in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” The body and blood of Christ are not scarce commodities. Instead, they are multiplied by the Holy Spirit daily at feasts and celebrations across the world.
Likewise, Christ's body and blood are multiplied in our lives through our giving and sharing in the world. If we understand ourselves gathering at this Table as one body participating in the meal together, then as one body we care for the weakest members of the body, as Paul commands in I Corinthians 12. We feel one another’s pain and obligated toward care for one another. We begin to identify with Christ in all that we do – including care for the hungry. This is more than simply going out to do acts of charity. Through participation in the Eucharist, the body begins to be participants in contributing to the experience of God’s love, motivated to share with those who are needy. As Christ says in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” The pain of the hungry person is Christ’s pain and is therefore the pain of the body. When we feel our own hunger, we eat. When we feel the pangs of hunger as a family, we shared a meal. When we feel the pain of hunger as a body of Christ, we feed and feast. The breaking of bread is done with a generous heart, likening to Acts 2, revealing the love of God. As Torrance writes, “The Christian gospel is a gospel of reconciliation, a concept enshrined at the heart of all worship.” May our Table manners begin to reflect this worship of reconciliation.