Around my grandma’s worn, oak table, my favorite stories are told. The ones as familiar as my childhood. The lines that have been repeated so many times I know when they are coming around the corner, can anticipate just when the laughter will follow.
Around an unfamiliar table in Switzerland, I was the au pair, a recent college graduate, 4,000 miles from home. I carefully prepared the dinner each evening, as directed, but when we settled in the dining room, my silverware was clumsy, the stories absent. My attempts to elicit laughter echoed empty in the room.
Around the table with three little boys, frustration and joy are intermingled like the food on our three year-old’s plate. Meals are interrupted for timeouts for not staying seated, for temper tantrums that start with the insignificant – ketchup squeezed onto the wrong spot on the plate, a taco that crumbles into a salad. We sigh with relief when the kids are excused, linger a bit longer with just the two of us, convincing ourselves we’ll miss this some day.
Around the table as a middle schooler, my first communion was taken in a wooden pew. Standing strong and sturdy in front of the sanctuary, the table displayed the words “Do this in Remembrance of Me,” carved in capital letters. The elements were passed in silver trays by men in suits and ties. We sipped all together, at the preacher’s cue. I was timid and didn’t throw my head back far enough to get even a taste of the tiny, plastic cup of grape juice. My mom laughed softly as I returned my full cup to the holder next to the hymnals. This might take practice, I assured myself, counting down the days to my second chance.
Around the table, I unwrap the loaf, reminding myself to smile as I offer the bread, watching as each person tears an uneven piece. “His body broken for you,” I whisper, wondering if I should be speaking more boldly, wondering what grace sounds like. I feel unqualified for this new title of elder (which literally means “beard” in Hebrew) – I just want to stay out of the way, be a vehicle for this gift so much larger than myself, so much grander than my clumsy hands, stuttering voice.
Around the table, in first-century Palestine, “table fellowship with beggars, tax collectors, and prostitutes was religiously, socially, and culturally taboo.”¹ Still Jesus invited the uninvitable, welcomed the unwelcome, loved the unlovable. Jesus called the sinners to his table, renamed them as friends. He looked the overlooked in the eyes, filling them with food, drink, and value.
Around the table at the Passover meal, just hours before his betrayal, “Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ ” (Luke 22:19-20)
- Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 59