The New Testament consistently emphasizes the importance of both baptism and table fellowship. But their importance is not separate from one another. Scripture has a clear trajectory from the waters of baptism to the table. In Acts 2, Peter delivers a masterful sermon in Jerusalem during Pentecost, claiming that the Holy Spirit is pouring itself out on the whole world, claiming that Jesus is in fact everything God has ever wanted for his people and that Jerusalem responded not by embracing him but by killing him. The sermon ends with, “Let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” This is a bit of a cliffhanger. Peter gives the crowd no send off, no clear idea of what is supposed to happen as a result of the sermon. I suppose this is a somewhat risky move. If a preacher doesn’t tell his audience what to do with the sermon, maybe they won’t do anything at all with it.
But Peter’s cliffhanger pays off. It creates an itch in the crowd, a desire to know what happens next, how the gospel might move from the ears to the heart and hands and feet. “Brothers, what should we do?” the crowd asks. Peter’s answer is short enough, but robust all the same. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Begin the lifelong journey of repentance, of turning in a new direction, of aligning ourselves completely with God’s love and will. Be baptized because in the water God’s forgiveness is given freely and generously. Our sin no longer has any power to define us, only God’s loving claim on our lives. And in the water is the gift of the Holy Spirit, also given freely and generously. It’s in the water we immerse ourselves into this new reality.
The sermon works. 3,000 people come forward to be baptized. That might seem like a nice place to end the story, but we’re just getting started. Baptism is only the beginning. The water gives us a new way of being human, and therefore creates a new kind of community. Those who were baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” Essential to this new kind of community is telling the Jesus story, fellowship, prayer, radical generosity, and gathering around the table. It’s something these first Christians did day in and day out. It seems they couldn’t wait to get around a table with each other. The table so perfectly sums up this whole description of the new community. The table is often a place of teaching and learning. It is the place of fellowship and prayer. And it is the place of generosity, of feeding each other and making sure no one goes hungry.
Baptism gives us our identity: children fully claimed by our Father who loves us enough to forgive us and be ever present with us through his Spirit. And the table gives us our vocation: people who tell the Jesus story, people of fellowship and prayer and radical generosity. That’s who we are.