Tying the Table to the Text: How the Sermon Serves the Supper


This is my body, which is for you.

This cup is the new covenant in my blood.

Something akin to these are typically the final words before we partake of the bread and "wine" at The Parkway Church. Each Sunday, though we conclude with similar words, the journey to arrive at those words can differ dramatically from week to week. Thus, each week is unique in how we steward the time while passing out the elements.

Occasionally, we encourage the congregation to consider a few questions of implication or application in silent contemplation. Sometimes we enjoin the gathering to meditate on a passage or two of Scripture as the elements are being passed. Other weeks we exhort the church to look around the sanctuary or even talk to each other as the elements are distributed. No two weeks are exactly the same. So why the change from week to week?

We aren't spinning a wheel backstage, or rolling dice, or just following whatever feels right or fun at the time. Neither are we relying on chance or reading some trendy best-seller called, "50 Radical Innovations for Relevant Communion" to determine our direction.

Instead, each and every week, we simply follow the direction of the text because we believe that the passage itself prepares us for the meal and orients us toward the table. Let me explain why we do this.

A foundational tenet of Christian homiletics (the art and science of preaching) proclaims that what makes a sermon distinctly Christian is the taste and truth of the gospel. Cults and other religions can expound upon certain aspects of truthand can certainly commend moralitybut only in a Christian sermon do you get Christ Himself; only in the gospel do you get true grace and justification by faith, and a message that liberates and empowers a people to response.

Therefore, if all Scripture provides the meat of the gospel, then every sermon must anticipate the meal of grace. In other words, the Lord’s table flows out of every text. Every text of Scripture that you preach should lead to the gospel—communion being the overflow and feast of the gospel. If you can't get the bread and the wine out of a text, then you haven't gotten Jesus out of the text; and if that's the case, then what's the point?

For example, if the text concerns unity, then the table demonstrates that Christ died to create one new man in place of the two. If the text concerns justification, then the table displays our unrighteousness and Christ's righteousness. If the text affirms legal admonitions, then the table shows forth the one who upheld the Law so we would be free to walk in the Spirit.

On and on and on we could go. There is no end to the implications and applications as we tether the table to the text. For, wherever the text goes, it must go to the gospel and, necessarily, to the table. The sermon prepares us as a prelude to the meal, while the meal is the visual symbol of the meat of the sermon—Christ Himself.

This philosophy of communion not only grounds our method for the table in the message of the text, but also provides hope for those partaking; it reminds us that this meal is not for those who have it all together, but for those who confess that they most certainly do not. It is a banquet for the broken and bruised, a feast for the frail and fatigued, and a meal for the meek and mortal. Rather than allowing us to wallow in our weakness, it looks backward to Christ's power and provision, and looks forward to His return and the supper yet to come (Revelation 19:9).

So, each week, we end our Sunday morning service by feasting on the flesh and blood, but only because we have first feasted on the inspired Word. The sermon serves the supper in this way, allowing those who hear it an opportunity to both taste and see that the Lord is good.

Geoff Ashley