Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
The church was designed to function as a body. There are many members that comprise the whole body. The more people toil together, the stronger the bond is. Isolation is not healthy for prolonged periods because it weakens the individual. We become less efficient, less informed, less capable of withstanding blows of life, and on it goes. There is precious power in having allies, especially when we are under attack.
Much of this year has proven that we, as a congregation, work well together. There is strength in numbers. There is value in getting to know one another. But the Bible also says that those relationships must extend beyond ourselves. In fact, 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” The word for hospitality is only used 3 times in the Bible. It doesn’t mean hospitality to friends. It is a combination of two words that literally means “loving strangers.”
As the church, we grow stronger when we grow. We only grow when we learn to love strangers, showing hospitality to people who are not known to us.
The Christians very soon after Christ’s resurrection began meeting together on the first day of the week. Jesus himself appeared to the apostles and ate in their presence on the first day of the week (Acts 24:36-43). The first day of the week was incredibly significant for the believers because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead, it’s the first day of creation and, because of the resurrection, was the first day of a new creation. There is very early evidence that the Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Sunday when they gathered (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2, Didache 14:1, Pliny letter to Emperor Trajan).
Christians “gathered together” on Sunday to break bread. This fellowship at the table is repeated throughout scripture: “On the first day of the week, when they were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them. . . ” (Acts 20:7 ESV). Paul used similar language when he said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Cor. 11:20). Paul was chastising the Corinthian church because their “coming together” for the Lord’s supper was actually causing division. Acts 2:44 says that “all who believed were together and had all things in common.”
It is still significant that we “gather together” to celebrate the Lord’s supper each week. When we celebrate, we participate in fellowship with one another. This togetherness is not just something we do, it is an integral part of reclining at table with Jesus to celebrate the resurrection and proclaim his death until he comes again.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
We have many generations of traditions surrounding the Lord’s Table. Most of these traditions are noble, and thankfully we are diligent in remembering Christ at the table. It’s refreshing to know that we hold a high view of communion. Personally, I like to envision sitting with the first Christians who sat around the table, eating, drinking, and sharing what Christ meant to them.
The letter written by the Bithynian governor Pliny to Emperor Trajan around 110 A.D. gives us an early glimpse of what a worship day looked like for early Christians. Pliny was writing Trajan about the “problem” they faced with Christians who permeated the Roman Empire. Trajan’s practice was to give them three chances to “repent,” denouncing Christ, or else they would be executed. He described the “offense” of the Christians this way:
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to do some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food — but ordinary and innocent food.Christian History Institute
We know that the early Christians, even while being persecuted, were devoted to gathering to worship then gathering again for the Lord’s supper. Though we have removed the meal, there are ways that we can reconnect with the communal aspect of the Lord’s supper. We should always strive to rethink and reimagine the table. It was not an isolated, individualistic event. The Christians were united both at and through the table with Jesus as the meal. It was a time to celebrate salvation and to participate in the heavenly table, where all Christians of all cultures and all time gather together!
It is refreshing when we become giving in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the fruit of the vine. We commune with and give to our fellow brothers and sisters. There are many ways to re-envision the Supper. It’s wonderful to think about the depth and meaning of this meal that has been celebrated for thousands of years!