A Generous Table
Scripture: John 13:1-20
Communion is my favorite liturgy; it has been since I was a child. When I was young, one of the women who lived down the road would bake the communion bread fresh each month for our congregation’s communion table. When the bread was served during worship, I would rip off as large a handful as I could get away with without catching a glare from one of my parents. I learned early that there was something wonderful and expectant about gathering together to remember and enact a body broken and blood poured out. I learned that the presence of Christ is lavish and good, and we experience it because someone else took the time to pave the way or bake the bread. In turn, we are invited to make way for another.
In some communities, the liturgy of the table is called the Eucharist–which comes from the Greek word for “thankful” or “grateful.” While each stream of the Christian tradition has their own understanding of why we come to the table, and how often, and what happens when we get there, humming beneath all these understandings is the reality that it is gratitude that draws us there. That we approach the bread and the cup full of awe at the person and work of Jesus Christ.
There is something about a table that helps us to hold those two often divided aspects together. The person and the work. In a season when it is so easy to insist that it is the sacrifice of Christ that really matters, the table pushes back and says the sacrifice only matters because of who is offering his life. Yes, Lent prepares us to encounter the force of crucifixion in as much fulness as we can bear. But it’s equally important in this forty-day journey to prepare our hearts to encounter the life that led Jesus to the cross.
Jesus didn’t live to die. He came to dwell among us, and the way he dwelt among us resulted in his death. Because the empires and powers of this world are more interested in keeping us apart than they are drawing us all around a table.
And heaven forbid someone gets crazy and starts washing feet.
I’ll never get over the narrative. That Jesus, under pressure and knowing people are wanting to kill him, still observes the feast. Still prepares the table and gathers his people together.
Including Judas, who will betray him.
Including Peter, who talks a bigger game than he can deliver.
Including John, who will stick by him till the end.
I am not so generous in setting my own table.
I have to wait for the right moment, a clear schedule, a well-thought-out menu, the right guest list.
The floors must be swept and the bathrooms scoured.
Gathering around the table has to be an EVENT, not a simple practice of gathering that says to those around me “I see you. I’m grateful you’re here.”
Things need to be just right. I’m too tired, too busy, too stressed, and I don’t have people who would come anyway. But we gather around tables not because life is perfect and planned out, but because we’re in it together whether we can embrace that with gratitude at the moment or not.
“Just living life is not enough,” observes Henri Nouwen, “We must know what we are living…Half of living is reflecting upon what is being lived.”
I have often set tables just to eat. Trudged my feet to the table to unthinkingly shovel food into my mouth, calories to keep my body running until the next meal. I check out, into the world offered by a television show or a mindless scroll through my phone, or into my own thoughts, letting the conversation buzz around me like white noise.
We’re invited to set tables of knowing and being known though. Tables that offer us space to engage and to reflect. Tables that invite us to encounter one another in the fulness of who we are. And to somehow encounter Christ in the midst of all of that. After all, he is God with us.
As our week of fasting from criticism and engaging in gratitude winds to a close, choose a day within the next two weeks and invite people to share a meal together. Have each person bring something to share. Have a take-out potluck. A breakfast cereal potluck. A build-your-own sandwich potluck. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You just have to show up.
Because around the table, we remember that the presence of Christ is lavish and good and that we pave the way for one another simply by letting gratitude draw us there, to be present.