It is where we are nourished; we are entertained; we argue; we plan. It is where our past is remembered, our present is shared, and our future is dreamed.
There have been different tables throughout my lifetime. The table of my childhood was the old metal edged one with a red, speckled formica top. It was the first table my parents purchased after their wedding. Each of us had our place at the table. (I’m convinced that we learn the rule of “hey, you’re in my seat” as the result of having our place at the table.)
There were my grandparents’ tables. The dining table was the Sunday gathering place after church. It was a table filled with delicious southern-style foods and conversations about life. On Sundays the kitchen table was reserved for the younger children who had their own conversations and who secretly longed for the day when we could sit at the ‘big’ table with the grown-ups.
There was the first table of my own marriage. It was not an expensive table, yet it was the one where my wife and I would sit and eat together. It was where I’d study and do homework for seminary classes. It was the place where we’d set the baby bathtub to give our squirmy, first-born his bath.
Now, we have a new table where middle-aged parents, two teenagers and a soon to be nine year old tackle the world as we know it. Our table is still new enough that it doesn’t have too many memories or events attached. Over time those will come as we, and the world around us, change.
There have been countless other tables throughout my lifetime. The tables in elementary school and high school, college and seminary where I learned both the good and the hard lessons of life. The tables at conferences where I arrive a stranger and depart as a friend alongside those who are no longer strangers to me.
The tables around which I shared and celebrated the sacrament of the church are especially meaningful to me. There are the stories of the Eucharist and the story of the Eucharist shared at the communion table. My own stories include the day when all the elements weren’t there, although I didn’t know it until the meal had begun. There is the story of the gooey, sticky bread that coated the celebrant’s hands and the story of the un-pre-scored loaf that became a struggle as I tried to rip it apart. And then there’s the story of the young person who very audibly shared an “aaahhh!” after tasting the wonderful bounty of the cup, thus making it a real celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
I am aware that tables serve a variety of purposes. They unite us and they divide us. We talk about bringing parties to the “negotiating table” to hammer out agreements. There are plaintiffs’ and defendants’ tables in our courtrooms where litigants battle before a jury who will then retire to a table in the jury room to decide issues of fact. We use the phrase “turn the tables” to describe our cunning when dealing with wrongs committed by others.
We use a variant of the sacramental term to talk about those whom we join with at table. We talk about being “in communion” with others. In the case of Presbyterians we usually refer to being in communion with other Reformed bodies.
Now I hear language that describes affinity or missional partnerships/relationships to describe our own denomination. Are these terms merely synonyms for the idea of determining with whom we will be “in communion?” Is this idea just a shield for determining who is allowed to come to the table?
Who am I kidding? We’ve been notorious in “fencing the table.” We’ve tried to keep “those people” away from our tables far too long. We use scripture not to build up but to tear down. We introduce misinformation in order incite fears or prejudices to win votes or sway opinion.
Too many people are no longer at the table. Some have been driven from the table. Some have chosen to walk away. Some say there is no place for them at the table. Again, I say there are too many empty places at the table.
There are those who believe the extra elbow room will make it better for all. After all, when there were more of us the table felt cramped and the conversation loud. However I fear that, as more leave our table, the greater the gap that will grow between us and the quieter the conversation.
The church commemorates Holy Week next week. The table figures prominently in the events of that week. It is at there where Jesus washes his disciples feet and we are to remember that we are servants and not masters. The table is where the Jesus institutes the sacrament where we are united with him and with each other as the body of Christ. It is the place where Jesus announces that a betrayal and a denial will happen. The table is the where Jesus gives a new commandment to those who would be his disciples – to love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” (John 13:34)
The table is my favorite place to write…