The St. Paul’s Pulpit
The Peace and Joy of Table Fellowship with Jesus
Delivered on Sunday, April 15, 2018, by
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 24:36-43)
As we have seen in our study of this 24th chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke, on the day of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him. As they walk along, Jesus instructs them from the Scriptures, and then goes to the home of one of the disciples to eat with them. When he breaks bread, they recognize him. In this series of sermons, my point has been that this is the manner in which the resurrected Christ reveals himself to us—through instruction in the word of God and in table fellowship. In other words, Jesus reveals himself to us in Word and Sacrament.
After Jesus reveals himself to these two disciples, they run to find the eleven, they tell them all that Jesus had taught them on the road, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread. As they are talking about these things, suddenly, Jesus appears in the room where they are gathered. Naturally, when Jesus appears to them in this unexpected fashion, they are terrified. They believe that they are seeing a spirit. But Jesus calms their fears, and they go from a state of fear to a state of peace and joy. Peace and joy should be the outcome every time we gather at the Lord’s table. When I say at the end of each service, “Now depart in peace, to serve the Lord,” we should be able to do so, because we have encountered the resurrected Christ at his table. This resurrection appearance of our Lord shows us how we can enter into this state of peace and joy at the table of our Lord.
First, we are told that Jesus came and stood in the midst of them. This is the kind of language that Luke uses to signify the presence of Christ with his people. Notice that the disciples are gathered in one place, just as they will be gathered in one place on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them. This emphasis on being in one place is to show us that Christ manifests his presence in the place where his people are gathered together in his name. While is it true that Christ is omnipresent through the person of the Holy Spirit, it is also true that Christ manifests his glory in special ways at special times. We know that God is omnipresent, but we also know that he manifests his presence in glorious at various times in unique way. Though God is everywhere at once, Jacob can say, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not” (Genesis 28:16). Isn’t the Lord in every place? Yes, but he manifests his glory in special ways at certain times, and one of those times is when his people gather in his name on the first day of the week to partake in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In these moments, Jesus comes and stands in our midst, and we are aware of his presence as at no other time.
In the Church of the Holy Communion in Dallas, there is a huge, stained glass window above the altar that depicts Jesus standing there, holding the Communion chalice in his hands, as though he is inviting us to come and drink from the cup which he offers to us. The impressive thing about that portrait is the reminder that Jesus is really standing in the midst of his people. As our Lord said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Our Lord is establishing a pattern in this resurrection appearance. When his people are assembled together, he will stand in the midst of them. This truth is portrayed so vividly for us in the book of Revelation, where we see the glorified Christ walking among the candlesticks–the lampstands (Rev. 1:12-13; 2:1). As you remember, those lampstands represent the seven churches that will be addressed in the book of Revelation. The significance of that picture is that Jesus is always walking among his churches, always present with his church–walking, standing in the midst of his people.
One of the great themes of the gospel of Luke is the presence of God with his people. In the Old Testament, the presence of God was manifested in its splendor and glory in the tabernacle and the temple. But as we move to the New Testament, and Luke’s gospel in particular, we see that the emphasis is beginning to shift. The glory of God is seen now, not in the temple, but in the person of Jesus Christ. Luke begins with a scene in the temple, with Zacharias seeing the angel Gabriel, and God making his will known in the temple. But then, Luke moves from the temple to the Virgin Mary, and the emphasis is that God is dwelling in the womb of the Virgin Mary in the person of Jesus Christ, God made man. Then, Jesus emphasizes that he is the temple. In the Gospel according to St. John, John says, “ And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The glory of God is revealed in Jesus Christ. Later, in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The Jews thought that he meant the temple in Jerusalem, but John tells us that he meant the temple of his body (John 2:21), for his body is the temple, the place where God reveals his glory. But now that Jesus has ascended to heaven, where is his glory now? We could say that his glory is in heaven, but we must also remember that he has a body on earth that reveals his glory. The glory is still in his body, which is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” The glory of God is revealed now in the Church, his new temple. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:19-22: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” The Church is the holy temple in the Lord. The Church is habitation of God through the Spirit. Jesus stands in our midst, revealing his glory to us, and one of the most wonderful ways he reveals his glory to us is in the Sacrament of Holy Communion when his people gather with him at his table.
In Holy Communion, we are aware that Christ is standing in our midst, and when that happens, when we realize that it is really true that he is in our midst, like the disciples, we experience a holy fear, or perhaps, a fear of the holy, for we realize that we are sinful beings in the presence of a holy God. In this resurrection appearance, the disciples are afraid because they think they have seen a ghost. We experience a holy fear when the glorified Christ is in our midst because we realize we are sinners in the presence of the Holy One. Like Peter, when we realize who Jesus really is, we say, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Like Moses and Joshua, we are made aware that we are standing on holy ground in the presence of God. The Apostle John himself, the one leaned on Jesus’ bosom on the night of the last supper, said that when he saw the glorified Christ, “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead” (Rev. 1:17). For this reason, in our liturgy, before we come to the sacrament, we confess that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, that we are unworthy to gather up the crumbs under his table, but Jesus reassures that we can have table fellowship with him, for during the course of the liturgy we have received assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.
Though the disciples are afraid when the Lord suddenly appears in their midst, Jesus comforts his disciples by showing him that they are in the presence of the real, resurrected Christ. He says, “See that is I myself.” In other words, the Jesus that they had been with for the past three years, the Jesus rich in compassion and mercy was in their midst–the same Jesus—“I myself.” To confirm that he is real, Jesus invites them, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see…” He shows them his hands and his feet, just as he will show Thomas his wounds in his hands and side and will invite Thomas to touch him. Notice how Jesus says, “behold” and “see.” The word “behold” means more than merely “to look.” The word means “to perceive with attention, to pay attention, to understand, to experience, to learn about. In other words, he invites the disciple to carefully observe his hands and feet. When we come to the sacrament of Holy Communion, we come to behold his hands and feet; that is, we come to understand the significance of why he suffered for us in this manner. In the sacrament of Holy Communion, we study his hands and his feet. In other words, we concentrate of the death of Christ, his sacrifice for us in. We study how he suffered cruel torture and pain, and how his shed blood provides the forgiveness of our sins.
Not only do we behold him, but like the disciples, we also handle him. This idea of handling him was very important to the apostles. In I John 1: 1-4, we read, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” No doubt, John was thinking back on this resurrection appearance when they beheld him and handled him. John was fighting a heresy in which people didn’t believe that Jesus had actually come in the flesh. They believed that Jesus was some sort of spiritual being that only looked like flesh. But John is assuring his readers that Jesus had a real, flesh and blood, human body. John says that if we believe that truth, then we can have fellowship with God.
The disciples were always looking back on this occasion when they handled him and ate and drank in his presence. In Acts 10:41, the Apostle Peter tells the household of Cornelius, “Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” Again, notice in Peter’s statement the importance of eating and drinking with Jesus. He says, that after the resurrection, they ate and drank with him. Eating and drinking with Jesus was one of the glorious proofs of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They handled his body, and they ate and drank with him. Jesus invited them to handle him, and as we come to communion, we are invited to handle the body of Jesus. As handling his body gave comfort and assurance to the disciples, handling his body in the Sacrament confirms our faith in him. You might ask, “How can we handle his body since we don’t have access to the resurrected body of Jesus?” We do have access to the resurrected body of Jesus. He is bodily present with us in the Holy Sacrament. Just as he invited the disciples to touch him, we touch him in the sacrament.
Lest anyone should think that I believe in transubstantiation, that is, that the substance of the bread and wine are actually changed into body and blood, let me make clear that that is not what I am saying. Article XXVIII of our Thirty-Nine Articles clearly states that “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ.” But we should not conclude that our reformers believed that no change occurred in the elements during the sacrament of communion. A change does take place, but it is a sacramental change, which is a mystery and cannot be explained by human logic.
Classical Anglicanism did hold to the view that the body and blood of Christ were present in the sacrament in a real, though spiritual way. For example, Nicholas Ridley, our great Reformer and martyr, when he was being examined by his accusers, said,
Both you and I agree herein, that in the sacrament is very true and natural body and blood of Christ, even that which was born of the Virgin Mary, which ascended into heaven, which sitteth on the right hand of God the Father, which shall come from thence to judge the quick and the dead; only we differ in modo, in the way and manner of being: we confess all one thing to be in the sacrament, and dissent in the manner of being there. I, being fully by God’s word thereunto persuaded, confess Christ’s natural body to be in the sacrament indeed by spirit and grace, because that whosoever receiveth worthily that bread and wine receiveth effectuously Christ’s body, and drinketh his blood (that is, he is made effectually partaker of his passion). (274)
Notice, that Ridley is telling his accusers that he does believe that Christ’s natural body in is the sacrament–he just disagrees with his accusers on how they explain that presence. He believes that Christ’s natural body is in the sacrament by spirit and grace.
Then, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, wrote, responding to his opponents,
…although you express the body of Christ with what terms you can devise, calling it, as you do in deed, the flesh that was born of the Virgin Mary, the same flesh, the flesh itself, yet I confess that it is eaten in the sacrament. And to express it yet more plainly than peradventure you would have me, 1 say, that the same visible and palpable flesh that was for us crucified, and appeared after his resurrection, and was seen, felt and groped, and ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth at his Father’s right hand, and at the last day shall come to judge the quick and the dead; that self-same body, having all the parts of a man’s body, in good order and proportion, and being visible and tangible, I say is eaten of Christian people at his holy Supper. What will you now require more of me concerning the truth of the body? I suppose you be sorry that I grant you so much, and yet what doth this help you? For the diversity is not in the body, but in the eating thereof; no man eating it carnally, but the good eating it both sacramentally and spiritually, and the evil only sacramentally, that is to say figuratively. (339-40)
Therefore, the teaching of our church concerning the change in the elements is not transubstantiation; that is, that the substance of the elements are changed into the body and blood of Christ, but that the body of Christ, as Cranmer said, that body that was for us crucified, that body that appeared after his resurrection, that body that the disciples handled, or as Cranmer put it, “seen, felt, and groped,” is here with us now in the Sacrament. That body is taken and eaten by Christian people, but it is done so in a spiritual manner by faith. And that explanation is as far as good Anglicans will go into the subject. We don’t pretend to be able to explain how that change happens. There is a mysterious union of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and wine, but we don’t attempt to explain that union—it is a mystery, and we are content to let it remain a mystery. Francis Hall (1857-1932), one of our great Anglican theologians of the past, explains that we are dealing with a mystery, a mystery that the early church fathers accepted:
If the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ, can they rightly be said to retain their former nature and still to be bread and wine?…. the ancients clearly took for granted an affirmative answer; and, with a few uncertain exceptions, they held, without being conscious of inconsistency, the doctrine that the consecrated elements are and have become the body and blood of Christ without ceasing to be real bread and wine. There were giants in those days, and we are not justified in explaining their position as either careless or stupid. They were, however, more alive to the supernatural aspects of the mystery than are the majority of those who deny that such things can be. (134-5)
According to Francis Hall, the elements are still bread and wine, but they have become the body and blood of Christ without ceasing to be bread and wine.
E. J. Bicknell, in his book, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, describes the presence of Christ in the sacrament in this manner:
On this view we hold that we receive through the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ, because in answer to the prayers of His Church and in fulfillment of His own promise, He has brought the elements into a mysterious union with Himself. He has, at it were, taken them up into the fulness of His ascended life and made them the vehicle of imparting that life to His members. Thus, He is in a real sense present not only in the devout communicant but in the consecrated elements. Of the manner of this union we affirm nothing. The Presence is spiritual, not material. (492).
Notice carefully those words, “Of the manner of this union, we affirm nothing.” You can’t get more Anglican than that! We don’t know “the how” or the nature of this union, but we know that it exists.
Edmund Harold Browne in his book, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion: Historical and Doctrinal, writes about how Anglicans have described how the body of Christ is with us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion:
Protestants, of many different communions, have freely declared that Christ’s ‘Body and Blood are really and indeed taken. Nay! it is acknowledged by them, that the Body of Christ then received is the very Body that was born of the Virgin Mary, that was crucified, dead and buried. For there is no other Body, no other Blood of Christ. Christ’s Body is now glorified, but still it is the same Body, though in its glorified condition. It is not even denied, that we receive that Body really, substantially, corporally: for although the word ‘corporally’ seem opposed to ‘spiritually,’ yet not of necessity. And as we acknowledge that it is a Body which we receive, so we cannot deny its presence corporally, i.e. after the manner of a body. Only, when we come to explain ourselves, we say that, though it be Christ’s very Body, we receive in the Eucharist, and though we cannot deny even the word corporal concerning it; yet as Christ’s Body is now a spiritual Body, so we expect a spiritual presence of that Body; and we do not believe that we naturally and carnally eat that which is now no longer carnal and natural; but that we spiritually receive Christ’s Spiritual Body into our souls, and spiritually drink His life-giving Blood with the lips of our spirit. Moreover, it has been abundantly acknowledged, not only by our English divines, but by Protestants of all sorts, that the elements, after consecration, may be called by the name of those things which they represent. But then we call them so, not because we believe them to have lost their original nature, and to have ceased to be what they were; but because, being hallowed to a new and higher purpose, they may be called that which they are the means of communicating. (686)
I hope that what I have said is enough to convince you that I am not teaching transubstantiation. If I make some statements concerning the bread and wine, the body and blood that seem outrageous, remember how I have explained what I believe in this sermon. I said all that to say this: we do in fact, in a mysterious manner, handle the Lord’s body, and by doing so, peace and joy comes to our souls, our faith is confirmed and strengthened, and like the disciples, we believe not for joy.
One of the great Anglican preachers of the past, Mark Frank, (1613-1664), said in one of his Christmas sermons,
It is Christmas time, and let us keep open house for him; let his rags be our Christmas raiment, his manger our Christmas cheer, his stable our Christmas great chamber, hall, dining-room. We must clothe with him, and feed with him, and lodge with him at this feast. He is now ready by and by to give Himself to eat; you may see him wrapped ready in the swaddling clothes of his blessed sacrament; you may behold him laid upon the altar as in his manger. Do but make room for him, and we will bring him forth, and you shall look upon him, and handle him, and feed upon him: bring we only the rags of a rent and torn and broken and contrite heart, the white linen cloths of pure intentions and honest affections to swathe him in, wrap him up fast, and lay him close to our souls and bosoms. It is a day of mysteries: it is a mysterious business we are about; Christ wrapped up, Christ in the sacrament, Christ in a mystery; let us be content to let it go so, believe, admire, and adore it. (90)
Mark Frank is describing how the ministers of the gospel, in the Holy Sacrament, bring Christ to you so that you can feed upon him. All you need do to receive him is to come with a broken and contrite heart, and the mystery of all mysteries will become a reality in your life—unexplainable, but real.
To give further evidence that he is the resurrected Christ with real flesh and bones, our Lord asks his disciples if they have anything to eat. They bring him some fish and honeycomb, and he takes it and eats it; again, showing that his body is a real, human body that can do things like eat fish. I’m so happy when I read that, because as you know, there is nothing I love more than catching fish and eating them. When we used to go fishing with my grandfather, and we would get a fish on the line, he would say, “fry ‘em brown.” I love to catch them, but I enjoy frying them brown almost as much. Evidently, even in his glorious resurrection body, Jesus could enjoy eating fish. But again, the most important thing I want to point out to you is that here we have another meal. The King James Version says that “he ate before them,” as though he just grabbed a piece of fish and honeycomb and swallowed it quickly just to show that he could. But the word “before” has the sense of “eating it at their table as a guest.” In other words, what we have here is yet another scene of table fellowship, first with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and here with the rest of the disciples. The fact that they give him fish, also takes us back to his feeding of the five thousand when they bring him fish, and he multiplies the fish so that everyone can be fed. He will eat fish with them again in John 21 when he appears to the disciples and asks Peter if he really loves him, just before giving Peter the command to feed his sheep. How many times does Jesus have to give us illustrations about how the greatest moments of fellowship with him are in the context of a meal? It is obvious that in all these meals he is pointing us to the greatest of all meals, the sacrament of his body and blood. If we ever come to understand the spiritual gifts that are offered to us in the Holy Sacrament, we will experience so many blessings, especially the peace and joy that the disciples experienced in this account.
The first thing that Jesus says to them when appears in their midst is “Peace be unto you.” As I pointed out in my Palm Sunday sermon, one of Luke’s great themes is the peace that Jesus brings–a peace announced at his birth by angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…” When Jesus forgave someone or healed someone, he often said, “Go in peace.” In Luke 7:50, he tells the sinful woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” He heals the woman with the issue of blood, and says, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). But it is in table fellowship with Jesus that we have the greatest comfort of peace. A meal, especially in Biblical days, was a sign of peace. If people were not at peace with one another, they could not eat with one another. To invite someone into your home for a meal was a means of showing that you were in a harmonious relationship with that person. This fact becomes very important when you think of the time Jesus sent out the seventy disciples. Remember that he gave them these instructions: “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. (Luke 10:3-7). Notice what Jesus is saying. When you go into someone’s house, say, “Peace be to this house.” Jesus said that if there is a son of peace there; that is, a person who is who willing to receive the message of the kingdom of God and the peace that is present in that kingdom, remain there, and eat and drink such things as they give. What do we have in this scene? Once again, we have a scene of table fellowship–eating and drinking with a son of peace. When we come to worship on Sunday, Jesus does what the seventy were told to do. Just as he came to his disciples, he comes to us and says, “Peace be unto you.” If we are sons of peace we will receive him, and we will experience that peace as partake of the sacrament, because we are reminded of the redemption we have received through his sacrifice which we are celebrating here. We have peace because Jesus, “I myself,” is really with us. He stands in our midst, he says, “Peace be unto you,” and if we receive him, he will remain with us and have fellowship with us. These scenes remind us of the same imagery in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Again, this is a picture of table fellowship with Jesus. If you will receive him, he will say, “Peace be unto you,” and furthermore, he will sit down and eat and drink with you. Though you may have heard many sermons on Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” you have probably not heard many sermons that describe Revelation 3:20 as an invitation to sit down with Jesus in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. When we come here to receive the sacrament, the table fellowship shows that we are at peace with God and at peace with one another.
Then, not only do the disciples experience peace, but they also experience joy. The joy that we experience here is found simply in the presence of Jesus as he reveals himself in Word and Sacrament. In verse 41, we are told that that the disciples “believed not for joy.” They were so happy that the Lord was alive, they couldn’t believe it. When we gather around the Lord’s table, our fellowship with him should be so sweet, so exalting, that we have difficulty believing that this is really happening, that we really are in the presence of the resurrected Christ. It’s just too good to be true. If there is anything in life that seems just too good to be true, it is sitting down with Jesus at his table to have fellowship with him. When was the last time you really had that experience at the Lord’s table? It is so sad in our day that people keep looking back to a time long ago when they were “saved” or when they were “filled with the Spirit,” and how they wish they could recapture that peace and joy. Rather than looking back on days long ago for comfort, come and have fellowship with Jesus at his table now, and you will have an ever increasing sense of joy and peace–joy and peace that seem too good to be true. Amen.
Bicknell, E. J. Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the
Church of England. London: Longman, Green, and Co., 1936.
Cranmer, Thomas. The Remains of Thomas Cranmer, D.D. Ed. Henry Jenkyns. Volume 3. Oxford U P, 1833.
Frank, Mark. Sermons by Mark Frank, D. D. Volume 1. Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1849.
Hall, Francis J. The Sacraments. London: Longman, Green, and Co., 1921.
Ridley, Nicholas. The Works of Nicholas Ridley. Ed. Henry Christmas. London: Cambridge U P, 1841.