When the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Church in Corinth he included the earliest extant account of the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples during the evening before he was crucified. Ever since then, Christians have been taking bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread, and sharing it; and taking wine, giving thanks, and sharing that too.
Throughout the Christian centuries there has been disagreement among Christians as to what Jesus meant by ‘This is my body’. Was he referring to the bread, or to the breaking? Did he mean that when Christians perform these actions he is physically present? or present in the action? or present in the Christian’s soul? Or perhaps the regular event is simply meant to remind Christians of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If Jesus is physically present in the bread and wine, then we might call the table on which the elements are placed an altar: but if we choose a different interpretation then we might call it a communion table.
After the Great Fire of London destroyed the old medieval church of St Mary Abchurch, the parish met for worship in a temporary building which they called a ‘tabernacle’: not much more than a large shed. The communion table we have today was made for the parish tabernacle by a joiner called Almandy Howart and was moved to the new church when it was completed.
When first built, the triple-decker pulpit stood more prominently than now. Placed in the same line of sight as the communion table and reredos, they together proclaimed that the Church of England was a Church of preaching (the top part of the pulpit), of liturgical worship (the two desks at its base) and of the sacraments (the communion table).
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