For Maundy Thursday

Imagine the scene of a family meal. Perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas. There’s a big table with all the leaves put in, and Aunt Betty’s tablecloth doesn’t quite reach the ends. Chairs are crowded around the table—six nice wooden ones, a few wobbly chairs brought up from the  basement, a couple of metal folding chairs, and, of course, the piano bench where the two smallest have to sit and share the curved end of the table.

It’s supposed to be a nice meal. The food smells good. Grandpa says “Amen.” You say, “please pass the jello salad.” But then uncle Herman says, “Can you believe those anti-family kooks letting gay people get married.” And your cousin Frank, who’s still in the closet, looks intently at his mashed potatoes.

Or maybe all is pleasant until Aunt Cindy whips out the brochures for the new product she is selling and encourages everyone to place an order. “Just don’t get gravy on the order forms.”

Or maybe the doorbell rings; it’s your sister’s ex-husband here to see the kids.

Or Grandma says, “Now you kids know the chemotherapy isn’t really working. Glenn has a copy of the will. Pastor knows how I want the service. When the time comes, please don’t fight over the china.”

That’s often what things are like around the table–awkward, uncomfortable, disconcerting. Even around the holy table, the sacred space of the last supper. The mood in the upper room must have been incredibly tense that night. Jesus and his disciples knew that Jerusalem was a risky place for them to be. Jesus had been making strange statements about death all week. The authorities could break into this upper room and bust up the party at any moment. And then Jesus, the master, the teacher, strips down, kneels, and performs the task of a common servant. How embarrassing.

It can only get worse as Jesus calls the bread his body; the wine his blood. Suggesting Jews drink blood, well, it’s not Kosher. And it is a vivid reminder that he will soon die a violent death.

The communion table is a sacred space, a holy place, to be sure. But it is not always comfortable. All sorts of people crowd around the table and argue about who should be there and what should be said and how things should be done. The history of communion in the Christian church is spotted with pain and schisms. And yet the table remains a holy place, where the power of God surges among us in amazing, grace-drenched ways.

The former archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, used his position of influence to speak out against the oppressive practices of land owners. He also stood tat the holy table often. In March of 1980 he was leading the people in the mass–“This is my body”–when the bullet went right through his heart.

Paul’s letters attest to the struggles of the earliest church to share the meal among rich and poor; slaves and free; men and women; and, most notably, Jews and Gentiles. Over time, of course, some of the categories of division change. Most of us are no longer concerned with distinctions of Jew and Gentile. But there are still plenty of divisions to overcome: Catholics and Protestants; Americans and Russians; blacks and whites; Israelis and Palestinians; Sunni and Shia; liberals and conservatives. The categories change. The nature of the conflicts change. But our human need for reconciliation remains.

The table is a holy space not because everyone around the table agrees with each other, but because it brings together those who disagree. In bringing people together, the table holds out the hope of peace.

Yes, there was fear and tension in that upper room. But the presence of Jesus brought a peace that reached beyond the turbulent circumstances. We are told that Jesus and his friends sung a hymn before they went out into the night.

Yes, Romero was killed at the communion table. But the words he said to a reporter a few days before his murder have proven true: “A bishop will die. But the church of God—which is the people—will never perish.

The table is a holy space, though not necessarily a comfortable space. It is a place to which God draws us; a place in which we allow Christ to become a part of us; a place from which the Holy Spirit leads with transforming power.

*You can read the full sermon version of this reflection (along with other good sermons) at the Bridgefolk site.

Creative Prayer Experience

Create an invitation to the meal in the upper room. If Jesus had sent handmade invitations, what would they have said? Address the invitation to yourself as a reminder that you are Christ’s chosen guest each time you share in the communion meal.

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