April 13, 2017
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, ‘My time is near; I will keep the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
That evening he took his place at the table with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
They became deeply distressed and began to say to him, one after another, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
He answered, “One who has eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written of him, but woe to the one who betrays the Son of Man! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said it.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
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Important things happen around tables. Meals are places for celebrations – weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and graduations. Families come together for the holidays and share a feast. Even daily meals shared together create a space where so much more than bread is shared. Children learn manners; or at least their parents want them to. Grandfathers tell stories, spinning the tales out with more and more elaboration. It’s a time to set the phones down and listen to each other. In the light chit-chat of the day, family is formed, and affection grows stronger. Sometimes there are deeper conversations, and meaning and understanding grow deeper, too. Even tension at the table changes us. We become who we are in the breaking of bread.
Sometimes it even happens among strangers – especially when strangers come together around a common need. Sometimes lives are changed around a table.
I don’t know if you saw Don Haven’s column in the Sentinel last week.[i] He wrote about a time of table fellowship that was life-changing for him and others. I had heard him talk about it in Bible study a couple weeks before, and to me, the story was extraordinary.
Now, you need to know that Don is an old Navy guy. But even more important to this story is that his wife Debbie is a Rear Admiral, which is how Don got to be at the table that he wrote about last week.
It was a Returning Warriors Workshop, which are held for sailors coming back after deployment in the Middle East. These people are in the Reserves, and even if they had been in relatively safe parts of the world, their sacrifice was huge – setting down everything they know and love – their work, their family, their friends – to join a group of people they don’t know, to do a job they’ve never done, in a part of the world they’ve never been – and, quite possibly, see combat.
And then they return home again, returning to a life that no longer exists the way it was when they had left. Because of their experience, they weren’t the same people anymore, and neither were the families they left. For some, there were no families. For some, their jobs had disappeared. For some, there was nothing normal to return to.
The way Don describes it, at the workshop there were speakers and breakout sessions and chances to connect with others sharing similar experiences. It was all designed to say thank you to the people who had served, and give them every edge at finding a new normal. Debbie was the keynote speaker, and Don says he learned more about her experience than he had ever known before.
All kinds of people came – Don was surprised by this – “lots of women sailors, all sorts of races and ethnic groups…, and many immigrants.” A Brazilian woman who works as a state trooper, assigned to the medical corps. A guy who is a nurse, whose Navy job was to operate a bulldozer. Men and women, gay and straight, young and old, immigrants and native-born…
And at those tables, everyone was equal. There were no uniforms. There was no rank. Not even last names were used. Just first names, shared experiences - and vulnerability around those tables. “Each guest was assigned a specific table for the entire weekend,” Don says, “so we got to know our table mates very well. It got pretty intense at times, which explained the tissue boxes on each table.”
As Don kept describing it, I found myself thinking more and more of Jesus’ table fellowship. I thought of the way Jesus described the kingdom of God, where people will come from East and West and North and South and sit at his Table together.
Sometimes meals are just meals, merely practical, but sometimes they are intense and tender, like the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples. There was truth told at that table, hard, life-changing truth. Something terrible was about to take place, and Jesus was trying to warn them of it. Something powerful was going to happen, and he wanted them to understand.
You see, he knew the day would come when they would gather back again, returning to a life that no longer existed the way it was before the resurrection. Because of their experience, they weren’t the same people anymore - and neither were the other followers of Jesus. The world was not the same.
But there’s something about table fellowship… where people come together and strangers become friends, where more than mere hunger is fed, where stories bind our lives together, and understanding grows deeper, too…
What a blessing that Jesus gave this meal to remind us. What a gift, a blessing., a remembrance.
What a sacrament of grace, this table fellowship – where in the broken body of Jesus, we are made into the body of Christ.
First Presbyterian Church
[i] Don Haven, “I want to go back to Returning Warriors Workshop,” The Granville Sentinel, April 6, 2017, 4A.