The Lord’s Table

Being an Anglican chaplain stationed on a small US garrison in Germany can give you the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. We aren’t fluent in German, so we can’t easily go to an off-post church and yet our on-post options are Roman Catholic or “general” Protestant. Sometimes the via media can leave you isolated between two poles.

This being the case, we have on occasion conducted the Eucharist at home, which involves some changes in the execution of the service. The liturgy remains the same, but the setting and implements change. This brings some interesting connections and shifts in symbolism.

We use our dining room table instead of a dedicated altar table. Its bar-height works well when we stand in the service and its marble top adds some solemnity. It brings to mind the Passover being celebrated around family dining tables in homes. Instead of the commonness of the table detracting from the solemn ceremony, the importance of the ceremony adds a layer of symbolism. This is the table around which we are fed each day. Where else would we go to receive that food which keeps us for eternal life?

I have two sterling silver goblets my parents used to drink their first toast on their wedding day and one serves as my chalice. It is just the right size for communion for 4-6 people. This evokes everything from the miracle at Cana to the wedding supper of the Lamb.

There is something about serving the elements to your family. It exist in the context of a larger service as well, but when they are the entire congregation, it focuses the effect. There are few communicants the priest knows better than his own wife and children. Nothing encapsulates the hopes I have for my children more than the words at the distribution: “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your body and soul to everlasting life.”

The Eucharist has long been one of the things that pulled me from Anabaptism to Anglicanism. I remember many years ago, the pastor of the Southern Baptist church we attended had the husbands and fathers distribute the elements to their own families one Sunday. We were instructed to read the words of institution from the Gospels and it was the first time I had ever coupled those words with putting the elements into the hands of my wife and children. I could hardly get the words out. “This is my body, broken for you. This is the my blood of the new covenant.”

A few years later as a chaplain for a basic training battalion, I served communion during a field service for my soldiers. Intinction was not a method I had ever used, but it was “field expedient.” The soldiers lined up, took a wafer, and dipped it in the chalice one at a time. I was moved by this row passing before me with many nationalities and different strands of Christianity. Some crossed themselves; for others it was clearly the first time they had received in this manner. Grubby hands from being in the field, weapons slung on their backs, wearing camouflage. It was both a foretaste of heaven and a stark reminder that we aren’t there yet. These men and women were training for war and many would go on to see it first hand in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is priority and preference for a proper church within which to celebrate the Eucharist. However, there is also something to be said for those times when we are moved out for one reason or another and are able to glimpse this holy act in a different light.


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