In many of the congregations I know and have worked with, there is an insider language which we use to describe things in ways that might seem hard to understand to outsiders but which make perfect sense to us. Often, for example, a special service of some kind might be followed by a “fellowship time”. The basic translation is simple–there will be food afterwards and all the regulars of the congregation need to remember to bring their particular speciality.
I happen to like fellowship times as my long suffering belt will give witness to. But one of the interesting realities of church life is that the fellowship time we all enjoy has a very strong and direct connection with another part of church life that many are not aware of. Fellowship times with food and the worship at the Table (variously called Communion, the Lost Supper, the Eucharist among other things) have an interesting relationship that can make both more significant.
At first glance, there isn’t a strong connection. Fellowship times have lots of food, coffee and tea, lots of talk, spilled drinks, dropped food, sharing of recipes, laughter and so on. The worship of the Table is serious and solemn, filled with symbolism and ritual, conducted with reverence and congregational silence. Fellowship time seeks to bring us together with each other and Communion seeks to reconnect us with God and give us a spiritual boost.
The two are clearly separate but important aspects of church and faith–except that they aren’t as separate and different as we think. The worship at the Table began as a meal. Jesus and the disciples were sharing in the Passover meal when Jesus instituted the Communion worship. The Passover meal has a lot of symbolic and highly spiritual aspects–but in the end, it is a meal complete with all the aspects of a normal meal. That would include lots of conversation, passing of food, spilling and slopping (Da Vinci’s Last Supper includes a spilled salt dish by Judas). The people at the table were friends–they had their differences and tensions like any normal group of people but they were in the end friends enjoying a good meal together–much like any collection of people enjoying a fellowship time.
For me, the connection between fellowship times and Communion is important and can help both become more important. When we look at fellowship times as a form of Communion, our laughing and sharing becomes a spiritual exercise. When we drink coffee and share food at a fellowship time, we are in some real way experiencing the reality of the Last Supper. As we fellowship, we can be more aware of the presence of God in our midst, bringing us together and blessing our time together. We eat and laugh but we also make concrete our love for each other, which makes concrete our love for God.
When we take elements at a Communion service, we can see them not just as symbols of the love of God but also as reminders of the fact that the worship at the table began as a meal among friends and that underneath the centuries of ritual and tradition, we are still sharing food and drink with friends in the presence of God who called us together to the table. The reverence and solemnity of the Communion should never hide the fact that it began as a good meal among friends.
Both the fellowship time and Communion also point to the fact that ours is a community based faith. We are joined together by God’s love for us in Jesus Christ and when we eat and drink together, we can remember the community, whether the eating is a full meal or a ritualized event filled with symbolism. We eat and drink together with people who are important to us and with whom we are comfortable–and in the Christian context, we eat and drink together as people joined together by our shared acceptance of the grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.
So, whether we celebrate Communion during worship or eat together after worship, we are called to remember and emphasize the community nature of our faith. God has invited us together to share at his table, a table that we can see not just in worship but also in the food of a fellowship time.
May the peace of God be with you.