The Table: A Place to Gather, Share, and Remember
It sits in our garage now, but for most of my life there has been a wooden table—either in the dining room or our kitchen—that once belonged to my grandmother before it belonged to my mother, then my sister, before making its way to me. It is thought to be over a hundred years old at this point but no one is really sure. Run your hand across it though and you will feel the imprint of what seems like a hundred years. There are slight dimples where brass upholstery tacks once held a vinyl top in place; faint lines formed from writing letters and grocery lists, and even the marks of keeping score during all those card games; and ripples of water rings from glasses that sweated too late into the night while people swapped stories.
What I’ve learned from my grandmother’s table is this: A table is more than piece of furniture. It does more than simply hold the objects necessitated by a meal. No, a table, whether set or not, is the place where people gather, remember and share. And while meals are essential for feeding our bodies, I have learned it is what happens during (and often long after) those meals that feeds our souls.
As church leaders we get this, or at least we should.
The table is the place where we often find ourselves situated with others who are sharing with us their plans, their hopes, and maybe even their fears.
The table is the place where we often find ourselves, perhaps after a long day of serving others, finally sitting down with our families to share in the day's events.
And the table is the place where we gather our churches each week to remember and to share.
When we sit at the table with another, whether in a coffee house or in a place of corporate worship, we participate in the long-practiced tradition of gathering, remembering, and sharing.
I’m often drawn to Jesus’ words while sitting around the table with others, but especially so during what is often referred to as his last supper. Each Gospel account sets up the scene uniquely, but it is Luke’s account that captures the moment so well for me. Here is how he tells it:
So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:13-19)
It is not the way Luke recounts the “words of institution,” or the “order of the elements,” or even the way in which he sets up the eschatological hope situated in Jesus’ parting words that makes Luke’s account personally formative. Rather, it is his inclusion of this phrase situated at the very beginning of Jesus’ words: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you…”
Scripture’s arc tells the tale of a God who longs to gather at the table with us. It is there in the Garden, in the Exodus experience, in Isaiah’s grand eschatological vision of a banquet on God’s holy mountain, and it is there in the words of Jesus as he sits down for one last meal with his people just before he suffers and dies—and Luke says he cannot wait to gather, to share, and to remember.
As those who attempt to serve and lead our churches well, may we join Jesus in desiring to “get at table” with others because we have come to understand well that what is served at the table may feed our bodies, but what happens at the table, with others present, feeds our souls.