I have been thinking a lot about tables and what happens around them in various settings. This past week I wrote in my congregation’s weekly email:
The table. Think about the tables you gather around in your life: the kitchen table at your home (or, if you’re like my family, more often we gather around the coffee table in the family room), conference tables for meetings, your desk at work, tables at coffee shops and restaurants, etc. Who do you gather with around those tables? Have you ever thought about who is not at the tables around which you gather?
Jesus knew about tables because they were a central symbol of who was on the inside and who was on the outside of “acceptable” society. Banquets were for the elite, and there were rules and roles for everyone in attendance. Some people tried to weasel their way into high society, and they were called banquet crashers. At Jesus’ table there were prostitutes, tax collectors who made money off other people’s poverty, smelly fisherman and day laborers, as well as some from the elite classes. It was a hodgepodge of who’s who and who isn’t all at the same time. And all had a place at the Christ’s table.
This Sunday during worship we will celebrate the Eucharist (from the Greek word “thanksgiving”), or commonly referred to as “communion.” We will gathering around the table, giving thanks for God’s love and grace poured out through Jesus and all of creation. We will gather in the midst of and sometimes in spite of challenges or differences, we will gather with those we love and those with whom we need to find a way to reconcile. And Jesus invites us all, just as we are, to this table. What a glorious celebration of the diversity and giftedness of the Body of Christ.
So what tables do you gather around? Who is there with you, either physically or in your heart and mind? Who is not there, and maybe should be?
See you around the table!
It’s gotten me thinking about all the other symbols from daily life we use in worship. John Calvin was a staunch minimalist, lest anything “extra” distract worshippers from our focus on God. He was reacting to what he deemed excessive ritual of the Roman Catholic Church—remember, he was leading during the anti-RC Reformation of the 16th century that was sweeping across Europe and into the “New World” (aka, the Americas).
However, I’ve come to appreciate ritual and iconic reminders of all the ways God is present and engaged in our daily lives. In the early church, paintings and images served to teach largely illiterate congregations the stories that were the fabric of faith. I have been working with our Sanctuary Readiness Team at the Church I serve around the idea of augmenting our chancel and communion table with things that remind us of the presence of God throughout the liturgical seasons of the year. It’s a fine line between “making things look nice” and truly trying to create a space where worshippers can be reminded of God’s constant presence.
A simple rule for me is this: any decorations or visual icons in a worship space or around a place of worship should always point to the presence of God and be easily and explicitly interpreted to the congregation. Our team has begun playing with seasonal decorations: pumpkins and things sparsely decorating the table around which we gather each Sunday (for some, including many hardcore Calvinist Presbyterians, this is an abomination, but we ask for your grace and mercy as we experiment with our intentionality when it comes to worship space). I think our next step is to be more intentional about interpreting them to the congregation.
Right now, we are in the harvest season as we round out the Christian liturgical year and head in to Christ the King Sunday at the end of November. The cornucopia of squash and corn is a reminder of God’s abundance both in creation and in spiritual nourishment through Jesus Christ. It reminds us of both sacraments that we celebrated and instituted by Christ—Baptism and Eucharist—and the fact that these sacraments point to the reality of our connectedness and dependence on God and God’s presence in and through those gathered, as revealed through Jesus. Ok, that’s a start.