14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.’
17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!’ 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
If you think about our practice of faith and how we live out the story of faith, there are ample opportunities for creating symbols or icons. There’s the crib every Christmas, which in Catholicism in particular is very important because of its focus on an incarnated faith. But it’s seasonal. There’s the cross obviously, whether it’s empty or with the victim on it, it’s an important symbol, but there’s not much we can do with it, other than have it around us. There’s the empty tomb, but again, I’m not sure how we can make use of it in church.
Possibly the most user-friendly, familiar and precious symbol of faith is communion, eucharist, the last supper, whatever name you chose to use. Christian churches everywhere enact it every single day. And look how simple it is. A table, some bread and wine (alcoholic or non) and the community gathered around.
Someone told me recently of a communion service held in solidarity with Christians from countries in which Christianity is banned. It was held on a hill in the north-east of England. People gathered outdoors after nightfall and it was called a whispered worship, for those who were remembered must keep their allegiance and their discipleship secret. Bread and wine are too obvious as symbols of faith so the worshippers brought grapes. The biting of the grapes, the breaking of the skin, stood as symbols of a body broken and blood shed.
I’ve partaken of a communion service in which the wine was replaced by whiskey, with the deliberate intention of ensuring the liquid burns and stings as it is swallowed.
Sometimes we kneel and have bread placed on our palms and a cup handed to us. Sometimes we stand and the bread or host is placed on our tongue. Sometimes we sit around a table and serve one another. Sometimes it is a solitary experience. Sometimes it is a remembrance. Sometimes it is a partaking. Sometimes the bread and wine are only memorials. Sometimes the bread and wine is taken as the body and blood.
Whatever we name it and however we practice it, communion is precious to Christians the world over.
But look at it again. It’s just a meal. A table and a shared meal among friends. What could be simpler than this profound act of hospitality.
I love the famous icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, painted in the fifteenth century. There is so much to notice in this delightful image. But for our sake today I want you to notice perspective.
Notice how the three characters, the three persons of the Trinity, are seated and the orientation of their heads. But notice one other thing, there is a space at the table.
This space is our place. It is intended that we are not simply observers of this encounter, but participants. And so at the Table we join with the Trinity in a shared meal. Hospitality is at the heart of the trinitarian God.
Google a copy of Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity for yourself and spend some time meditating on it. Look at how the characters are oriented towards one another. Look at hands and feet. The colours, the background etc. And take your place at the Table.
Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(From the Book of Common Prayer