When summer comes and city corners are full again of kids with bikes and basketballs, my mind returns to a particular playground. For several summers I worked at a church with an outdoor recreation ministry, whose intent was to serve the neighborhood, meeting the kids and building relationships. We played games, read stories, jumped rope, and organized basketball tournaments. One year a volunteer artist came and helped the kids make pottery, so we commissioned them to create some new communion plates and chalices for the church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Most of these kids had never taken communion before; many had never heard of the Lord’s Supper or been told the story of Jesus and his disciples in the upper room. So with muddied hands we told the story, and together that summer several sets of communion plates and cups were fashioned by kids eager to see them in use. I have never seen more colorful, misshapen objects grace the altar of a church, and I have never seen so many wide-eyed children (and adults!) come to life at the communion table. The elders held the lopsided plates and cups, inviting the church community to come and remember the one who shapes us. The children had a physical sign of their place at the table, and the church was reminded again that we are all children being nourished by the Son of God.
When Christians confess the Incarnation, the coming of God into the world as a child, they are proclaiming the gift of a God who comes so near his creation that he joins it. The Lord’s Supper is another gift marking a God who comes so noticeably near as to join us. The table is a place, like the manager in Bethlehem or the cross of Calvary, where we are welcomed—rather, summoned—to his side, to come forward as we are: the sick to a kind physician, the outcast to one who was rejected himself, clay into the very hands of its creator. Jesus left this sign and seal specifically with human beings in mind. When he left his followers with the command to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of his presence among them, he gave them a sign of this presence both visible and physical. Fourth century preacher John Chrysostom wrote of this physical gift as a vital reminder both because we ourselves are physical and Christ as well: “Were we incorporeal, he would give us these things in a naked and incorporeal form. Now because our souls are implanted in bodies, he delivers spiritual things under things visible.” At the table, Jesus offers not merely a place of welcome, but something real for real bodies to hold, a taste of his nearness that nourishes body, mind, and soul. We are given collectively the assurance of a real, present, and nourishing Christ that feeds us in this rich company and then turns us out into the streets and the down the hedges with the great news of an invitation: Taste and see that God is good, and remember I am with you always even unto the ends of the earth.
Coming to the table like the disciples centuries before us, Christians consume a meal that sustains us like any other. And yet, it is at his table that we ingest a meal unlike any other. We consume Christ and his multivalent invitation to participate in his story: his birth among us, his suffering on the cross, his humiliation and burial, his resurrection and new life. As a visible sign, it is far from one-dimensional. Like the children who first witnessed the Lord’s Supper from bright plates painted at their own hands, we can taste and see that it is personal. We are wanted. We are welcomed. We are communing with something true and real and satisfying. It is so much more than a meal.
Christ calls those who will hear to this table to commune with himself and all of creation. He calls us to locate our selves and our redemption in the presence of a great community and in the midst of a remarkably real story. We are invited to taste and see presently the God who holds the history of all creation and a vast community of neighbors. We are invited to see ourselves as children sustained by a hospitable host, a provident parent aware of our needs and more than able to answer. Christ was born as a child in Bethlehem not merely to come nearer, but to usher the world by his grace into communion and community, into his death and resurrection, into the mystery of faith, the promise of new creation, and the assurance of the table and the feast to come.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.