Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"A Common Meal for a Common People"

Matthew 9:9-13

1 Corinthians 11:17-26

Once upon a time, there was a conversation at a Deacon’s meeting as the board was making

plans for their annual Thanksgiving dinner for the needy of their community.  Deacon Katherine

began:  “Every year, we stand behind the table serving food to the poor folk who have already

sacrificed their dignity by coming here for a free meal.  Then we go off by ourselves to eat our din-

ner.  It almost feels condescending, like we’re superior and they’re inferior.  I think it’s time to

change the way we do this.  Couldn’t we make it a truly community celebration rather than a pious

act of generosity from the high-and-mighty to the down-and-out?”  Katherine was met by several

sets of hairy eyeballs from the other deacons.  She continued:  “Why don’t we have the rich and

poor alike serving side-by-side?  Maybe we could then have everyone sit down together at table for

our meal, kind of like we do at home.  That way, at least for a little while, we’re not calling atten-

tion to our differences, but respecting our commonality.  After all, we’re ALL children of God.” 

      Several of the deacons shifted in their seats before Deacon Moderator Jan spoke up:  “Kathe-

rine, that sounds real nice.  But we’ve been doing this Thanksgiving meal for almost twenty years

without a problem.  Why should we change it now?”  The two deacons continued to debate the

issue until Jan, in frustration, slammed her fist on the table.  “Katherine, the pastor should decide

what we’re going to do!  She’s the boss!”  Pastor Ann, who had said nothing up to this point, sug-

gested that the group silently pray about it, then bring Katherine’s idea to a vote.  After the

prayer, a vote was taken, and the Boss [with a capital B] ended the debate.  By a vote of 11 to 1,

Katherine’s suggestion passed.  And for the first time in its history, the community Thanksgiving

dinner truly became a community dinner, with parishioners and their guests both serving and

breaking bread together.  For Deacon Katherine’s idea carried the weight of Biblical authority. 

      As we’ve learned in our study of the gospels, when Jesus sat down at table with people of

every sort and stripe, He was modeling inclusiveness and community at the deepest level.  In the

ancient culture of Jesus’ day preparing, serving and sharing a meal with others was a very intimate

and personal affair.  To break bread with another was making the clear statement that you and

they were equals before the Almighty. To gather around a common meal was to acknowledge

common hopes and fears, common dreams, common interests, common failures, in short,

common humanity.  Scholar John Dominic Crossan has probably done some of the most thorough

and historical Biblical analysis on the matter of table fellowship in New Testament times.  In his

book “The Historical Jesus: Life of a Mediterranean Peasant,” Crossan suggests that Jesus leveled

the playing field, bringing together the high-and-mighty and the down-and-out, demonstrating

that in the eyes of the Lord, all are in equal need of grace, forgiveness, and a place at that escha-

tological – the yet to come -- banquet table in the fully established Kingdom of God.

      A little earlier, we read from Matthew’s Gospel that the Pharisees were so troubled by Jesus’

display of commonality at table that they asked Jesus’ disciples:  “Why does your teacher eat

with tax collectors and sinners?”  No self-respecting rabbi would demean himself by eating with

such social outcasts. When Jesus sat down at table with folk, He was saying to His contemporaries,

and says to us, I share with all people common hopes and fears, common interests, common

failures, common humanity.  We are all brothers and sisters, and the sharing at table is the sign of

our solidarity.  So grasping this, we can begin to understand why the Lord’s Supper was of such

vital importance in the theology of the Apostle Paul.  It is precisely at the Lord’s Table that

distinctions of class, race, gender, ideology and nationality are obliterated.  In his letter to the

Galatians, Paul writes of our commonality in Christ, particularly as regards the other of our two

sacraments - baptism:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free,

there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Jesus Christ.”  Nowhere is this

common humanity more visible, more pronounced, more embodied, better modeled than at the Lord’s Table.

      So when Paul reminds the Corinthians of the words of Jesus at the last Supper – “Do this in

remembrance of me” – he is telling them to remember that Jesus, in His act of consecration and

self-sacrifice, lifted up our common humanity, and our common need of God’s grace.  Just as

Jesus gave over His body and poured out His blood for Judas the betrayer, for Peter the denier,

for Thomas the doubter, for all who forsook Him, so He gave over His body and poured out His

blood for all of us who -- in our own ways -- have betrayed, denied, doubted, and forsaken Him. 

And just as the disciples in the early church gathered at table to proclaim the Lord’s death until He

comes, so too we gather at table for the same proclamation, and with the same hope of Jesus’


      Yet as we read in our primary text, Paul was provoked by the Corinthians because they had

failed to honor the Lord’s Supper appropriately.  He writes in verses 21 and 22:  “For when the

time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and

another becomes drunk.  What!  Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?  Or do you show

contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”  In Paul’s view, the

Corinthians were degrading the Lord’s Supper by calling attention to the differences between the

rich and the poor in their post-communion meals.  The rich would separate and sate themselves

with food and drink while the poor went away empty.  So what Jesus intended as a celebration of

our common humanity had become in Corinth a display of callous indifference.  Perhaps this letter

of Paul was in part the motivation behind Deacon Katherine’s desire to change the way a commu-

nity Thanksgiving dinner was served, having previously called attention to differences between the

rich and the poor, even unintentionally humiliating those on the receiving end.

      Jesus and Paul are both making clear that when we come to this table, we all come dressed in

the tatter and rags of our common humanity.  In the Lord’s eyes, we are not some rich and some

poor; some saints and some sinners; some gifted and some handicapped; some of dark skin and

some of light.  In our common humanity before God, we are all rich and poor; saints and sinners;

gifted and handicapped; dark-skinned and light.  Think about it.  We are rich in God’s blessings,

and sometimes poor in sharing them.  We are saints of the Most High God, and sinners who regu-

larly fall short of God’s glory.  We are gifted by God who makes all things new, and handicapped

by our fear and lack of faith.  Whatever the color of our skin, eyes, hair, shape of our body, we all

originate from the common seed of humankind. Thus we come to this table, at once admitting our

sinfulness while rejoicing in our redemption from sin.  But above all, we come as people united

by a common origin; a common humanity; a common destiny.  Yes, we gather together as people

formed in the image of our Creator, struggling with our broken humanity, and destined for a life

with the saints at the banquet table of God’s Kingdom. 

      So as we come on this Lord’s Day to Christ’s table, at least for a little while, we’re not calling

attention to our differences.  We’re doing something together as community.  We’re celebrating

our common need for and enjoyment of this sacred thanksgiving meal; this Eucharist.  I’ll have to

say of Deacon Katherine:  she wins the debate hands-down.  And I commend Pastor Ann, for she

let the Boss decide what the church was going to do.  Amen.