Despite the fact that I call myself a writer, I’m no grammarian. I remember only two technical rules from my 7th grade English class having to do with definite articles and prepositional phrases. I remember because the rules lent themselves to “seeing” it. Everything else was obscure terminology associated with rules I had to memorize, leaving me with nothing to visualize. I dread the day I send my final manuscript to the copyeditor because I know I’ll get something back that’s grammatically correct, but it will no longer express things the way I intended. The good news is that I’ll probably learn something: either I should stop having my work copyedited, or next time I should follow the rules, which means I’ll have to learn the rules…and stop using ellipses. And fragments. I’d rather clean the gutters. At least I’d be able to answer my daughter’s homework questions.
I write to what sounds right and when a sentence doesn’t sound right, I hear a little alarm bell in my head telling me to mess with it until it does sound right. It’s very technical, you know. So technical I can’t explain it.
The alarm bell also goes off when I’m reading someone else’s writing. In most cases, I’ll put the book away; I don’t like reading poorly written sentences. I’m not sure how I know they’re poorly written since I’m no grammarian, but trust me, the bell knows. Now, I said “in most cases” I put the book away, but not in all cases. In fact, there’s one book I forbid myself to put away regardless of how often the bell sounds.
I read this particular book every day. For the past several weeks I’ve been reading through a particular set of chapters in this particular book. Throughout these particular chapters, the bell has repeatedly sounded over words that are out of compliance with the rules of definite articles and prepositional phrases, the only rules I remember from English class. Since I chose to focus exclusively on these two rules, I think that makes me an expert. I use the word “focus” loosely.
Okay, you guessed it. The book is The Bible. The particular chapters are the Gospels. And the phrase that is causing the ringing in my ears is “reclining at table.”
Shouldn’t it be “reclining at the table?”
Normally I would look at this misstep as a sign of sloppiness on the part of the author and set the book aside. Obviously I can’t do that. Instead, this calls for an investigation.
So why did the writer leave out “the” as an indication of the definite article, the table? Does this mean we should discard our picture of physically reclining at an actual table and instead consider something more mysterious? Is this some kind of hint? Are we limiting our understanding because we don’t get the metaphor?
Okay, I’m back. I did some quick digging for the phrase “reclining (or recline) at table” in the English Standard Version Bible. It shows up 23 times. The earliest is in 1 Samuel 20:4 when David is telling Jonathan he does not want to fail to sit at table with the king.
The next time it appears is in Matthew 8:11, and then 21 more times thereafter through to John 13:23 at the last supper when Jesus became troubled in His spirit and testified that one of His disciples would betray Him.
I’ve read all 23 instances. I’m not going to say this is theologically correct or anything like that. I won’t even say it’s well researched. But here’s what I think reclining at table means.
Reclining at table means expectantly entering into the presence of King Jesus, taking the trusting posture of reclining at table (metaphorically speaking), and being fed life through His body and blood. While we remain, truth becomes evident, intimacy with Him grows, and we are changed.
Reclining at table is to abide in Christ.
There, that should silence the bell for a while.