The Family Table

The smells of beef and onions, cilantro and salsa waft through the air. The sound of conversation and laughter fills the back yard on this cool summer night as dozens of people sit at a single long table sharing food and life.

It is a community gathering to celebrate the upcoming birth of yet another child within the church family. It is not a first child for the particular family, but the third, but the celebration is none the lacking.

My beloved and I have been graciously welcomed into the life of a new church plant here in Milwaukee. It is a wonderfully loving, caring, close-knit community which always holds their arms open to new additions to their community. A rare community, that is for sure. The gathering today is a special gathering. A time when people not only share food, but also to share words of blessing, encouragement, scripture, and prayer with the parents of this to-be-born child.

It is a sacramental moment.

***

The mystery of the sacraments in the Reformed view is that the elements remain elements, but in the ordinary bread, wine, water, something extraordinary happens. God uses ordinary things for extraordinary purposes. God takes the mundane and uses it for sacred purposes. The elements don’t change. The elements do not gain special significance unto their own. The elements remain just what they seem to be, but it is the Spirit of God which uses them for special purposes. The sacraments are where the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the material, the ordinary and the extraordinary meet.

While our gathering is not a sacrament, there is something sacramental about it. While it is not the Eucharist, there is something eucharistic about that moment.

“It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ as already ‘filled all things with Himself’ that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty. A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 113).

***

It is a moment for which to give thanks, a moment which gushes forth with the beauty of the church.

What has drawn me into service to the church is not simply Sunday mornings, but it is also the church that exists Monday-Saturday, the church that exists in grocery stores and city parks, the church that exists in schools and in factories, the church that exists in backyard celebrations to welcome a new child into the family.

It is a moment of true fellowship, something in which I do not frequently have the opportunity to participate. This is the church at its best. To be sure, it is not the only way a church should exist. A church cannot only exist in a backyard, and this church certainly does not — mission and community are at the heart of this church: Reaching out to others, and enfolding them into their community all to for the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God. The popular Pauline image of the church is the body of Christ, imaged as an actual body. While not disagreeing with this, I think that this night, sitting around the table, together celebrating the coming birth of a new child, is a rich image of the church.

It is a sacramental and eucharistic moment. It is a temporary thin place. A time of ordinary life which is shattered by the extraordinary Reign of God.

What are some of the sacramental or eucharistic moments in the world that you have experienced?

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3 thoughts on “The Family Table

  1. Beautiful post, Matthew! Something really does happen when friends eat together. It seems Jesus was on to something when he shared that last meal with his disciples 🙂

    I spent the last two weeks vacationing in Colorado, and during that time I had the immense privilege to officiate my brother’s wedding. I looked around and saw all of our family and friends gathered together. My brother and his bride looked at me, and both (in their own way) let me know that everything was just as it should be. There was a quiet holiness in that moment, and I’m thankful I got to be part of it.

  2. Beautiful perspective, Matthew, and I’m happy to hear you were able to be part of such an experience with your congregation/community. The story makes me wonder if I/we often fail to avail ourselves of opportunities for those sacramental and eucharistic experiences or to have the sensitivity to realize we are in the midst of one. Come to think of it, the time you and I spent together at a coffee shop around a year ago could, to my recollection, qualify as such an experience.

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