I love Christmas and this year at HopeUC our theme is ‘There’s a place for you here’, focussing around the table. One of my most precious times at Christmas, is when I prepare the table for family and friends. It’s not just about the beauty of the table, but what it represents. The gathering of like hearted and like minded people, friends you see often and family you see once a year. We have been given a precious picture in God’s Word when, just before Jesus’ greatest suffering, He gathered His disciples around the table and He broke bread. In other words, He pulled together His precious friends (and one enemy), He gave thanks to His Father, and in doing so, He continued His personal preparation for what would ultimately be the greatest moment in all of history.
I find it interesting that the same kind of pull I have toward my table, Jesus Himself had toward a certain table in the Scriptures. A physical table is not actually the point; but creating value around intentional time to sit with each other, to listen, to respond, to break bread, to laugh or to cry is the point. For me, my kitchen table invites me into this space frequently and freely.
Let’s take a look at Luke 22:
Then came the preparation day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, so that we may eat it.” They asked Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?” He replied, “When you have entered the city, a man carrying an earthen jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house that he enters. And say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ Then he will show you a large upstairs room, furnished [with carpets and dining couches]; prepare the meal there.” They left and found it just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
When the hour [for the meal] had come, Jesus reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. He said to them, “I have earnestly wanted to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
—verses 1–15 amp
Jesus Himself eagerly desired to be with His friends, and together they gathered around purposed food, that is, not just for their bodies, but food that was meant to nourish their souls and their spirits. I love the picture of jesus ‘reclining’, perfectly at ease in the moment.
And so they shared in the service of Communion together, a spiritual meal that prepared all of them for the upcoming days.
The days in which we live today, when many of us mistake busyness for purpose, and followers for friends, it is important that we have a sacred place where we can gather with others. We need to be able to share time, food, prayer, laughter, and challenges with just a few people or more. We need a place where our families and loved ones know they can come and relax in our presence. It does not have to be a pristine presence, but it needs to be a place that represents life with others, and a place where you are free to be yourself.
Some of you may not have a home where you can make this happen, but you may have a favorite coffee place or restaurant, or someplace in the beautiful outdoors where you can sit relax and simply be.
“Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what's common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”
Brené Brown, a professor of social work whose major work has been conducted around ‘vulnerability in our society’, had this to say about our deepest relationships: “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued, when they can give and receive without judgement…”
With our kids, and our friends, and our spouses, it is so beneficial if you can create a space where there can be vulnerability, a sense of openness and honesty, without the pressure of having the perfect answer, and without the threat of experiencing an immediate rebuttal.
Such is the beauty of the table, where we have permission to be ourselves with each other. A sweet friend sent me a saying which has become my favourite, “let’s build longer tables and not higher fences”. Oh my heart.
We all have times where we feel we are simply too busy to come and sit at someone else’s table to share their lives and experiences with them—or to even think about making room for another at our own table. As a pastor we find people in all walks of life who when you get down to it, are simply lonely. Many have no ‘village’ to turn to, no ‘communal table’ to feel welcome at. This challenges me to the core. In the developing world, many have very little in the way of worldly possessions, but the village is STRONG. They SHARE food, resource, parenting advice, and the table? Well, even if it is on a floor, I have always been welcomed to come and just be part of the family vibe. And when food is scarce and water is muddied, they always wait until the guests have eaten as a sign of honor, and then they eat what is left. Super humbling to say the least. And the lessons our family have learned through experiences like this are timeless and of eternal significance.
Back when we were a family of four, I remember thinking, There’s still room at our table for more! We tried to adopt a little boy and hearts broke when just before we were to take him home, government policy changed and we were unable. Then we lost a long awaited child through miscarriage, our hopes were dashed again. But after a long wait, the day came when we finally gave birth to Zoe Jewel, there was such a sense of completion in knowing that the empty chair that had been at our table for so long would now be filled. But I did end up just buying more chairs. And more chairs.
Can I encourage you today to make some room in your heart and in your mind, at your kitchen bench, in your church, in your life group, or in your friendship circle—for others. Open yourself up for new possibilities in your life, new people to love, new people to learn from. We were meant to nourish other people and to be nourished by others.: To nourish means so much more than just eating; it means to feed, to encourage, to nurture, to help something develop.
Theologian N. T. Wright once said: “The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for His Kingdom in the world...The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.”
Some of the most valuable times of ‘fellowship’ happen as we break bread with others at our well worn kitchen tables. It’s time to declutter the space, open the door of your home and the door of your heart and simply say…”There’s a place for you at my table”. We learn this from the best...Jesus eats with everyone.