“All you guys who want in the picture need to get on this side of the table!” Those were the last words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper . . . at least that is what I have been telling folks in the congregations that I have served over the years . . . I think they are beginning to believe me . . . or at least believe in the concept.
Growing up as a kid the table was pretty much the central piece of furniture in our home. It was the one place where the family gathered each day and actually were together. Around the table conversation was passed just as frequently as the food. Around the table stories were told . . . questions were answered . . . jokes were shared . . . and, there was laughter and good times. It was around the table that our family gathered to check in with one another, listen to one another, and support one another. The table was the central meeting place in the family where affirmed and confirmed one another in mutual love. Often the conversation and fellowship were greater than the actual meals in sustaining us for another day.
When company came over it was around the table that everyone gathered . . . whether for a meal or for coffee. It was a place of solitude and solace for those who entered into our home. Just like the family it was a place of sharing stories . . . making confessions . . . popping off a few jokes and sarcastic remarks . . . the sharing of laughter and tears. It was a place where comfort was found in the company and in the sharing of the hospitality of a simple meal or treat. Around that table friends and family were affirmed with honest and open acceptance . . . not that everything was okay and without conflict . . . but acceptance without condition.
Having moved on from the family table, the wife and I have come to realize that the table is the most important piece of furniture in our home. Now, my recliner comes in a close second, but I am constantly having to throw one dog or the other out of it before I can even sit down in it. I would throw in the throne in the library as pretty close to second . . . but, like the recliner, it is a place of solitude . . . the humble abode of an introvert. And, as much as I love the recliner and the commode (now if they would make a reclining commode, the table might be knocked off of its lofty pedestal) . . . it does not bring into life what I find around the table. Both the wife and I know that it is around the table that family and friends gather . . . it is around the table that the fellowship is welcomed . . . around the table that the love is expressed and felt . . . around the table that we celebrate our bond.
Now the wife—being the extreme extrovert that she is—likes to entertain. She likes to use her whole house to entertain in . . . especially the living room. Yet, despite her best efforts when family and friends are over, everyone still gathers around the table. She could put all the refreshments and food in the living room, and everyone would still end up around the table. It just seems everyone is more comfortable and relaxed around the table. As much as she still fights it, she still enjoys having everyone around the table. The only problem is that the table is beginning to get too small.
I never imagined that when we bought our table that it would ever get too small. Shoot! It expands out to infinity and beyond! Well, maybe not to infinity, but it sure feels like it when we pull it out to its full length. When completely out the table seats about ten people. The problem is that we are up to nine people around the table now with number ten due any day now . . . and, that is immediate family! Yet, we are squeezing ourselves around the table . . . bumping elbows . . . and, having a great time. Those times when the whole family is gathered around the table are some of the happiest moments in my life.
Happiest moments because I enjoy the fellowship of those who are gathered around the table. I love to hear the teasing and laughter. I love to listen to the intimate conversations . . . the sharing of stories . . . the remembrance of bygone days . . . and, more laughter. I enjoy the chatter of the granddaughter talking non-stop and everyone attempting to interpret what she is saying. I even enjoy the two dogs trolling around the table . . . especially around the daughter and granddaughter because they seem to have that innate ability to know who the sloppiest eaters are.
Around the table I feel a wholeness . . . a wholeness that might only last for a short while of being a family before we disperse and go our separate ways. Around the table I feel the barriers drop as family and friends open up that protected and special place within themselves that they protect with a vengeance . . . when they allow themselves to come out and play for a while. Around the table I enjoy the fact that not only we are sharing food that sustains us, but that we are also sharing nourishment that sustains the soul. Around the table there is wholeness, but there is also holiness.
I joke with my congregation about the last words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, but I truly believe that Jesus wants us all to gather around the table. I think that the table was a central piece of the message Jesus was attempting to share. In the denomination that I serve—the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—the table is central to what we believe as followers of Jesus. We believe that we should never gather without coming to the table . . . to breaking the bread and lifting the cup . . . to fellowshipping around the table. Thus it is that we have the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday. If we shorten up the service to save time we will get rid of everything in the service except the Lord’s Supper. That is how important we find the table. So, why wouldn’t Jesus make such a statement to those who were gathered with him in that upper room? It is at the table . . . when all are gathered . . . that we have the opportunity to experience a little slice of God’s kingdom.
Research has revealed that the most important things in people’s lives are the biggest objects in their lives . . . they stand over everything else. For some folks it is the 60-inch television . . . but for me, it is the table. The table is the biggest piece of furniture we own. It is the one piece of furniture that gets used each and every day. You can take my television, but you can never take away my table. It is a place of wholeness with family and friends . . . and, it is a place of holiness.
This past Father’s Day we gathered around the table. All the seats were filled, but at the same time we acknowledged those in the family who were unable to be there because we missed them terribly . . . but the seats were filled. The stories flew . . . being the center of the celebration, I endured the brunt of the kidding . . . it was noisy . . . it was loud. There was lots of laughter. And, there was a whole lot of love. A holy love. Around our family table we feel love and loved whether it is in our home or in the sanctuary of where any of us worship. I truly think it is as close to the kingdom of God as we can ever get while living on this rock we call home.
In our house, the table is open to all. All are welcome. So it goes in the churches I have served over the years . . . all are welcome. Even if only for a few minutes, the kingdom of God is embraced. The table is a table of love, but more importantly it is a table of hope . . . hope of what could be. Yeah, I know, you’ll argue with me about whether or not Jesus actually said those words. And, I know that they do not show up in anyone’s Bibles in red letters . . . but, I am pretty certain that if Jesus didn’t actually say it . . . he would have.