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Witherington on the Table of the Lord

Posted by on Nov 30, 2009 in books, community, fellowship, ordinances/sacraments | 8 comments

This quote is from Ben Witherington’s book Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007):

What have we learned in our examination of Paul’s discussion of meals, and in particular the Lord’s Supper? Firstly, the Lord’s Supper was taken in homes. This is clear not only from 1 Corinthians 11 but also probably from Acts 2, and furthermore, it was partaken of as a part of a larger fellowship meal. Secondly, Paul is trying to distinguish the Christian meal and its protocol from the usual socially stratifying customs of a pagan meal. The Christian meal was to depict the radical leveling that the kerygma proclaimed – whoever would lead must take on the role of the servant, and all should be served equally. This social leveling was meant to make clear that there was true equality in the body of Christ. All were equal in the eyes of the Lord, and they should also be viewed that way by Christians, leading to equal hospitality.

Thirdly, the Lord’s Supper was clearly not just a reenactment of the Passover meal, not least because of its prospective element, looking forward and pointing forward to the return of Christ. For that matter, the Last Supper itself was no ordinary Passover meal, for Christ modified both the elements and their interpretation so they would refer to him and his coming death. There seems to be no historical evidence that early Christians used the Lord’s Supper as an occasion to dramatize either the Passover or the Last Supper. Instead, the ceremony was incorporated into a larger and different context, that of the Christian fellowship, or agape, meal. (pg. 60-61)

What do you think of Witherington’s conclusions? Is it important that followers of Jesus continue to share the Lord’s Supper as the early believers did as described in Scripture? Why or why not? If so, then in what ways?


8 Comments

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  1. 11-30-2009

    Hi Alan-

    From my facebook update, you might be able to guess my answer. I think it is important that we meet regularly if not weekly over the Love Feast/Lords supper as a way of building stronger relationships with one another so we can grow in love for one another through sharing and bearing one anothers burdens.

    We need to slow down and spend time with oen another.

    Our society and the advice of my non-believing father run contrary to Christian fellowship and family: I was taught that absence makes the heart grow fonder and that familiarity breeds contempt. I was also taught that one should not share ones difficulties with others as most will not care and some will use it against you! Grin.

  2. 11-30-2009

    Hutch,

    I agree that our culture teaches anti-community. What do you think taking the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal would look like? Do you think the bread and cup would be separate or integrated or something else?

    -Alan

  3. 12-1-2009

    When I was a kid, I would go to my Grandmother’s Russian Orthodox church and the meals seemed to always carry a more spiritual atmosphere. My memories of the protestant “pot-luck” did not seem to integrate the spiritual component as well.

    At home or in a hall, the location makes little difference since we worship in Spirit and in truth, but we need to integrate the food with the Spirit a bit more I think.

    At our home gatherings, I have tried to do a communion celebration before the meal and thus make the entire meal “communion”.

  4. 12-1-2009

    Hi Alan
    My understanding of 1st century practice is that everyone would be seated (reclined!) ready for the meal and then the host would give thanks and break apart a large flatbread to signify the beginning of the meal, the bread then being passed around to all present. Similarly I envisage that the host did the same with the wine towards the end of the meal. Seems to me to be something we could use as a basis for celebrating the ‘Lord’s Supper’, whether its a sit down meal, a pot luck meal or even a picnic.

  5. 12-1-2009

    Joe (JR),

    We also take the elements (bread and cup) before the meal. What do you think about incorporate the elements into the meal?

    Goblin,

    Yes, that’s my understanding of 1st century meals as well. Of course, today, the host doesn’t break bread and pass it around to start the meal, and the host doesn’t generally offer a prayer/blessing with the cup of wine to close the meal. How do you think this would work in today’s culture?

    -Alan

  6. 12-1-2009

    Alan-

    I would not want to be legal about it or prescribe one way that it needs to be done, but I do agree that what Goblin has presented was what was done during the 1st century and that this could easily be incorporated into the shared meal. If the gathering is in a home (location does not matter) then the host starting with a prayer/blessing and a breaking and passing of the bread sounds good to me, if the people meet as the church in another type of building or in a home for that matter, it would also be easy to arrange for a rotation of the entire Royal Priesthood to take their turn praying and passing the bread and the wine.

    JR-

    I hear what your saying, I think the shared meal/Love Feast/Lords Supper is a great time for shared testimonies, sharing of burdens and giving prasie to God for what He has done in and among us, this might address what you speak of-I also thing just good ole conversation and getting to know one another is important as well.

  7. 12-1-2009

    Hutch,

    I think that would be good. But, of course, we don’t start meals with breaking bread or end them with a toast/prayer like they did in the 1st century. Perhaps we need to change the way we eat?

    -Alan

  8. 1-2-2010

    Tertullian has described at length (Apolog., vii-ix) these Christian suppers, the mystery of which puzzled the Pagans, and has given a detailed account of the agape, which had been the subject of so much calumny; an account which affords us an insight into the ritual of the agape in Africa in the second century.

    The introductory prayer.
    The guests take their places on the couches.
    A meal, during which they talk on pious subjects.
    The washing of hands.
    The hall is lit up.
    Singing of psalms and improvised hymns.
    Final prayer and departure.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01200b.htm