At Sacred Place like many mainline protestant churches, we celebrate the sacrament of communion, on the first Sunday of each month. We share in the meal on some special Sundays and holy days as well, but we are sure to pause each month for a time of remembering. So often, we can go through the motions of the words we say, the songs we sing, and the way we talk about this sacred meal. When preparing for gathering at the table each time, I usually only make minor changes to the words I say and leave the responses of the people the same. This month, I wanted to do something a bit different. I wanted to reframe our conversation. I always highlight our belief about the openness of the table. All are welcome, regardless of age, regardless of theological perspective, or anything else. If you are hungry, if you are thirsty, you may join in the feast.
My vision for what our gathering space would look like has morphed over the last nine or so months. I’ve made little changes to where the chairs are, what goes on our altar table, what color of spandex cloth we use and things like that. But our table has always been the same— an easy-to-transport 6-foot rectangle. We may turn it longways instead of sideways like many altars, but something has always bothered me about it. As I returned to some of my early sketches and the photos I had saves from things I liked online, I saw a common theme—many of the tables were round! I had forgotten that I originally wanted a round table, not so much to represent the knights of such a table, but instead to symbolize the unity we have in Christ. So, prior to our service, I found a foldable round table to use as our altar. This one change made a difference in how we gathered together. I put the congregation through a bit of failed choreography so that we could all gather around the table to join in the meal together, but there was something special about us all gathering together for this time of remembering Jesus.
The words we use at communion harken back to the liturgies used for hundreds of years. They invoke words that remind me of my earliest memories of sharing in the Lord’s Supper kneeling at the altar rail at my home church in Texas. We condense the story of Jesus into just a few minutes, much like we do between Epiphany and Lent. These seven or so weeks in between span Jesus’ life from birth to his preparation for death and resurrection. Christians have a really bad habit of focusing on the sacrifice and death part. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus’ sacrifice and death are really important parts of the story, but I think to only focus on the end of his life neglects that Jesus lived. As Rachel Held Evans says, “A lot of times, people say that Jesus was born to die, but I think Jesus was also born to live.” It is through His life that we see how we are to go about navigating our world. Jesus shows us daily what it looks like when God is living among us, and so often, it was with the poor, it was with those called other by the mainstream religious culture, it was with those pushed to the margins of society. So often, it was very unlike the way most people who call themselves Christian live, including us.
This week I have seen the division in our country grow. Growing up in Texas, many of my friends and family are more conservative than I am. They have the privilege of living somewhere where they get to be the majority. I have privilege of my own, but I have also experienced first-hand what it’s like to be someone on the margins, something I talked about last week. After the controversial State of the Union address this week, there were comments flying from people of both dominant political ideologies about the content of the evening; from the President’s words to the responses of those who have very different beliefs from him. His words have been fact-checked; statements of protest have been mocked, turned into memes, and demonized. I tried to step in and reframe some of the negative comments from family members, but was immediately pounced upon by those indoctrinated by beliefs which seem to divide and exclude more than they do to bring us together.
I don’t share this story to vent or badmouth anyone, but to remind us to continually look to the life of Jesus and not those in power. Yes, Jesus was often a divisive public figure. He turned over the tables in the temple, but he did so to stand up for those who were left out of the common life. Jesus shows us that the way of love leaves no one out. He was intentionally hanging out with those labeled as sinner, not those who called themselves righteous. As the division in our country increases, we are called to work against that growing rift. We are called to proclaim that just because things are great for some people, doesn’t mean they are great for everyone. We might have to give up a little bit of our privilege for others to have a seat at the table.
I don’t think most people would be very comfortable with the reality of the Kingdom that Jesus describes. Looking at the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus paints a picture of those who are happy and blessed, it’s the broken hearted, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted—those who work for the good of others and are faced with much resistance and pain. The happy and blessed are not those who wield power for their own good. The equality of everyone sharing at the Table goes against the very nature of the world around us. This meal we share remembering the one who shows us the way of love is a subversive act. It proclaims that there is a place for everyone, there is food for everyone, at this Table. I pray that every table might be like that. That this work we do together to create a place for everyone will only grow. For this is your Sacred Place.