Sunday, May 02, 2010

Table or Altar?

I appreciated this response from Brandon. One can be a Zwinglian at a table, but never at an altar. This discussion brilliantly highlights the differences between Protestant "either/or" and Catholic "both +and" worldviews.

I have always been impressed with the fact that the Risen Christ still bore the marks of His crucifixion. This seems to show that suffering and joyous victory are not mutually exclusive: the two are intelligible only if not separated. Why should we expect anything different from Eucharist? Only if we already have a prior commitment to a metaphysic that cannot ccount for participation or sacrament.

Scot McKnight wrote:

The Eucharist, whether you celebrate and participate daily, weekly, monthly or otherwise, needs to be seen as a Table instead of an Altar. The apostle Paul calls it the "Lord's Table" in 1 Cor 10:1 and on the table food was served.

At the altar, blood was spilled or poured out; what was sacrificed in the Temple was then eaten at the Table. The Altar for the Christian is the Cross; the Table is for the Lord's Supper.

At the Altar, the sinner is forgiven; at the Table the forgiven sinner communes with God.
The cross is a place of sorrow; the Table a place for joy.

So, if you today are celebrating Eucharist, ponder the difference between Altar and Table, and imagine yourself at the Lord's Table to give thanksgiving for the joy of communing with God in the forgiveness of sins.

Brandon Vogt replied:
May 2, 2010 3:46 PM

The only proper description of "the table" as an altar is in the Catholic Mass, a liturgy that involves the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. If there is no sacrifice, there is no altar.

The idea of altar doesn't really make sense in the Protestant world, but in the Catholic mind the sacrifice of the Mass is central. Hebrews describes Jesus as the living high-priest. Central to this role of priest is the sacrifice he offers for his people. No sacrifice, no priest; giving sacrifices is what makes a priest a priest.

I think this idea of altar/sacrifice also has deep ramifications for the ways that Catholics and Protestants each understand their faiths. Protestants come to "the table" only to be fed, which at times is a blunt form of spiritual consumerism; it doesn't require much other than to show up. Whereas Catholics come to be fed (at "the table"), but also to participate in Jesus' sacrifice, in addition; to give, to sacrifice.

You are right in noting that after sacrifice, the sacrifice is consumed at the Table. This is the whole spirituality of the Eucharist, the literal body and blood of Jesus. We eat the sacrifice, as in the Passover.

Without a proper understanding of sacrifice and Eucharist, I would argue that "the Table" and the "Lord's supper" are incomplete and--to a certain extent--become incoherent


Brad Boydston said...

As with the atonement Eucharist is multi-dimensional. Culturally, table is perhaps a better starting point for Americans but if we don't eventually realize that there is more going on, then perhaps, we're terribly distracted.

Beth B said...

So, in order to help Americans realize that there is more going on, is it better to call it an altar, from the get-go?

This reminds me of trying to learn Mandarin. We can do it using pinyin, which employs the more familiar Roman alphabet, but which doesn't really capture all that is going on in Chinese.

While it's really hard at first to learn the characters, in the end, it's actually simpler, because there's no "crutch." Are crutches ever an impediment to progress? Could it be the case that if we follow Hicks in only calling it "table," we are sanctioning a cultural perspective that encourages "distraction?"

I'm also curious, Brad: what does Masterpiece call it--Eucharist, Communion, or Lord's Supper? Or all of the above? Seems like even the language we use to describe what's going on commits us to a particular perspective.

Probably Lord's Supper is more culturally friendly, but if we only call it that, don't we miss out on a huge part of what's occurring, and available to us as Christians?

Carving Ben said...

for the dear Protestants the Scriptural reference in Hebrews 13:10 where there is reference to the Christian 'altar', might be a place of departure, or at least, help to get their hounds off your trail.

bia said...
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