Gathering Around the Table (January 12, 2018)
Last week, I suggested in my column that people gather as the church for different reasons. Many of us gather because of what we believe and, more importantly, Whom we trust. But we also gather for fellowship, for building community, for being challenged to be the best person we can be. For many people, a church community is a place of belonging. I used the example of the “Sunday Assembly”, the so–called “atheist church” to make my point.
I received many comments about that column, all of them favourable. People appreciated being able to think about why we are part of a church in a different way. So often, we stay stuck in one way of thinking, and when someone points out another way, it opens our minds to different possibilities. I’m grateful for the way my words can help people gain a new perspective.
A woman who read the column called me to ask, “So what do you do in church at the Anglican church?” She wanted to know what we did on Sunday morning, because she honestly didn’t know. As a result, I thought I’d take the next column or two to describe our Sunday morning ritual.
Please remember that I’m describing our practice at Christ Church in Cranbrook. While there are some common elements shared by Anglican churches in worship, there is also a lot of room for local options in the way different churches actually worship.
One more introductory note: the word we use for worship is “liturgy”. It comes from two Greek words which mean “the work of the people”. In other words, worship is something we do together. It is not just the work of the person up front (minister or priest or pastor or MC). At the same time, what we do on Sunday mornings isn’t entertainment. We work together to worship the one in whom we trust.
At the heart of our worship at Christ Church is Holy Communion. It is known by different names in different traditions—the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. We gather around the Table (also called an Altar) for a meal in which we celebrate the heart of our faith.
This is the central act of worship for us. We tell the story of our faith in our prayer. That story finds its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We give thanks to God for the love which finds us and makes our lives whole. With few exceptions, we gather every week to “eat and drink, remembering that Christ is with us” in every part of our lives.
This is the primary reason we gather—to eat together. We celebrate the goodness of God in a meal consisting of bread or a wafer and a sip of wine. It’s very much like a family gathering, which often involves food.
What that also means is that we don’t gather primarily to hear a sermon or to sing or to listen to a praise band. We gather because Jesus welcomes us to the table where all are one, and where all human distinctions are erased. Around the table, we are equal—equally loved, equally valued, equally worthy.
Everything else we do in worship leads to the Table and flows from it. It is the centre of our worship. We begin by gathering as a community. Then we listen to the Scriptures (usually 3 readings plus reading a Psalm together) and a sermon which seeks to relate the Scriptures to our life today. Then we pray together and sing or say a Creed. Then we get to the heart of our worship, which is Holy Communion. At the end of worship, we are sent into the world to live as God’s faithful people.
As a result, when you walk into Christ Church, you will notice the Table as the most visible symbol in our worship space. Not an organ. Not a pulpit. Not a set of microphones or music stands. Not a display of flowers. A Table.
On the table, you will see a cup (known as a chalice), which we share together. We share heavenly food which is given to us as a gift. As we eat and drink together, we are building the community which has also been given to us as a gift. We welcome all who come. Some people choose not to eat or drink, and ask for a blessing instead. We are happy to bless people in that way as well.
As we eat, the person giving out the bread or wafer will say the words, “The body of Christ, given for you in love.” As we drink from the cup, we hear the words, “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” These are words of grace, words of invitation, words of life.
This is why we gather to worship at Christ Church. This is the Lord’s Table. All are welcome.
You can find more about Christ Church … and then come meet us. We work hard at building a community where all are welcomed.