“So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” — 1 Corinthians 11:33
This verse in 1 Corinthians is a powerful one. Most translations agree on the beginning part, “when you gather to eat.” Some translations make the argument that it is talking about The Lord’s Supper. But the last part is interpreted very differently. The Contemporary English Version says, “wait until everyone gets there before you start eating,” which is similar in meaning to the King James Version which says, “tarry one for another.” The Christian Standard Bible says, “welcome one another.” The verb at the center of that second clause is “ekdechomai,” which is a combination of a preposition and the word for “to receive, take, or accept.” You’re probably wondering why I am giving you a Greek lesson right now, and it’s because this is good news for us, today!
1 Corinthians was written to a diverse Church at the intersection of many roads and two different seaports in the ancient world. Some of us would call it “a melting pot,” and others would call it “a mosaic.” Paul is writing to the Church, a wildly diverse group of people who have been struggling with allegiances to different Church leaders and doctrines, and he’s inviting them to all eat together, no matter of their differences. I love the breadth of this command to them — ekdechomai (Well, if we want to parse it out, it’s technically ekdechesthe)! At the same time, it’s like he’s saying to them, “Wait until everyone gets there, before you start eating, but wait in a way that is hanging back for them, not where you’re hovering over your food, until they enter the room. And wait in a way that is expectant and welcoming to them, as if to say, you complete me, when they enter the room.”
Lent has been such a beautiful time for me, in my location, because I have been able to see the people of God listening to the command, “ekdechomai.” If you are like me, then you long for the Church to wait and tarry for everyone to come to the Table, and you have hoped for a long time to see this come true. You may not be able to see if much, but if you don’t let me give you some words of encouragement from what I have recently seen. Where I live, seven different Churches — across race, class, and denominational lines — have come together for seven weeks of Lenten Lunches, listening to seven different preachers and then eating lunch together. This past week, a lay minister at a Church that was very different than me sat me down at the table with people who were different from me, and we ate together. At the Church where I worship, we just finalized plans to have monthly meals with members of the English as Second Language (ESL) class, bringing together people from the Sunday morning crowd and the immigrant community.
By the Grace of God, I have seen Church people — who are accustomed to dining only with people who look, think, and act as they do — choosing to tarry and wait until everybody gets there to eat together. Since graduating from school, I have served three different churches as a full-time pastor, and in each place, I have tried to participate in ministries like this. In each case, the work has been very difficult, and at times it has felt like it was in vain. “How long, oh God, must I keep spinning my wheels and accomplishing nothing?” I have asked God. To quote a movie I watched as a younger man, “Good things take time, and great things happen all at once.”
Even while I have planted and watered seeds, trying to get people interested in intersectional ministry with people who are different than them, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who grows these seeds. When I have been allowed to see my egotistical expectations die — “Lord, this thing that I want isn’t going anywhere” — it seems that Jesus always comes through, making the idea that was God-sent in the first place, come true. It was within a few weeks that the pieces came together for the monthly dinners with the ESL class. In spite of my constant trying, it was other people who made the multicultural Lenten lunches work out well.
If you are a United Methodist, then like me you are living in a denomination that many people say is dying. However, we are able to allow our egos to die, along with our expectations for who God will bring to the Table and how they will get there. When we let go, it will allow God to move in a mighty and powerful way that uses our work and also goes beyond it.
Consider: In what ways am I waiting for other people to come to the Table of fellowship, and in what ways to I need to wait until everyone is there? What is my greatest expectation for the Church, and how can I give it to God?
Pray: Lord Jesus, who brought us together as the Church, we know that in ways that we cannot see, you are at work. Help us to have Faith — that thing which forces us to put ourselves in places that will fail, unless the Holy Spirit is at work. And when we allow you to put us in waters that are over our head, where we cannot swim, help us to also have the strength to follow you, or else we will drown. Help us through our fears and anxieties. Amen.