About the table…

The context: May 11th – the troubling election of a Bishop-coadjutor in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida; May 14th – hate crime/mass shooting in a grocery store in Buffalo, NY; May 20th – Senator Pelosi denied Communion because of her pro-choice stance; May 24th – mass shooting in an elementary school in Uvalde, TX; and one grieving priest/pastor/preacher/human.

I am, like so many people, exhausted. Finding a way to understand why we choose to hurt and maim and kill each other as we do is work that feels well beyond what I am capable of doing. And yet, I continue to try. I continue to try because I know that my innate Easter hope, which colors my view of the world, exists even when I have a hard time touching it. I continue to try because of my faith in God and my trust in the promises of Easter. And yet, like so many people, I am exhausted.

Though not a believer in a puppeteer God, i.e. the finder of keys and manipulator of all our actions, I spent a lot of time this morning talking with my spiritual director about why God doesn’t just give us the divine kick in the ass we seem to need so that we stop the hurting and the maiming and the killing and all the other things we do to each other that are absolutely, unequivocally contrary to the commandment to love one another as we have been, are, and will always be loved.

The other day, I happened upon Diana Butler Bass’ sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, a day in which we hear the John’s version of the story about Thomas needing to touch Jesus’ wounds before he can believe in the resurrection. (I found it on her podcast, “The Cottage.”) It’s probably fair to say that most preachers focus on Thomas, either to assure us that the doubt we might feel is not unique to us or to admonish us to get in line like those who believe sight unseen, or maybe it’s both. But Bass doesn’t do this. The sermon is titled, “Tomb to Table,” and in it she explores place and relationship with God.

Bass questions whether our focus on Good Friday and the cross is the lens through which we should view Easter and the resurrection. She points out that the narrative arc of the days leading up to the empty tomb begin at a table, with Jesus sharing a meal with his friends. She repeatedly summarizes the movement of the story from Maundy Thursday to Easter evening when Jesus appears to Thomas and the others as “table, trial, cross, tomb, table.” The Easter story starts and ends with the table. Though there are figurative trials and crosses to bear along the way, Jesus never returns to the tomb. He never takes his friends back to place of suffering and death. It is done. Jesus meets his friends where there is life. Jesus meets his friends where there is hope. Jesus meets his friends at the table.

So now I’m thinking about “tables.” For example, there’s the water table. The water table is life-giving. We are made of water and it is the element most necessary to life. For Christians, water is the necessary physical element of baptism, i.e. new life in Christ. There’s the dinner table. The dinner table is life-sustaining. The foods we eat have a clear and direct impact on our health and well-being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There’s the Thanksgiving table. The Thanksgiving table often is fraught. And yet it’s a choice we make to come together in and with whatever relationships we have because we know it means more than just what it is: an occasion to overeat foods not regularly on the table with people we may not spend a whole lot of time with during the rest of the year, sometimes because relationships are downright hard. It’s a day and a way of celebrating life and blessings and all manner of good things, even when life and blessings and all manner of good things are not immediately and apparently “good.” And, for some of us, there’s the Communion Table, which is and does all of the above and more.

Beyond what ever happens in the holy mystery of the Eucharistic Celebration, there is the shared journey to the Table, to deeper relationship with God through fellowship with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a place where all are welcome to come as they are with others who do the same because the grace and love of God supercedes all else. There is nothing we cannot bring with us, no fear, no anxiety, no exhaustion. It is a place to receive solace and strength, pardon and renewal, and to be reminded that none of us is alone in this life, even when we feel most lonely and afraid, most worn down and exhausted. It is a place to be both fully who we are and who we strive to be.

The Table is a place to meet Jesus and to be reminded that the hurting and the maiming and the killing will not have the last word. It is a place of hope. It is a place of grace. It is a place of Love. It is God’s Table, to which all are invited and where all are welcome.

The Table is a place I go to be reminded that I am exhausted because I care, because I trust, because I choose to show up, because I know I am loved and want to love others well. It is a place where even exhaustion and grief can be transformed. It is a place I go to find the strength and the courage and whatever else I need to be able to act, to do my part to realize God’s dream for God’s world.

Copyright 2022 The Rev. Paula J. Toland