Our series for the next few weeks focuses on the table. Last week Nancy talked a little about how all are welcome around the table – just like our welcome at the beginning of worship each week, all are welcome at the table as well. It is a table of hospitality. In our story last week with the children, Nancy showed us how the shepherd welcomed the sheep around the table, and then welcomed the people and more people and more people and then all the children were all invited to gather around the table as well.
This week we are exploring the table as a table of love. We see time and time again in the stories shared about Jesus that all those people he welcomed to his table – it didn’t matter what their background was, it didn’t matter if they were rejected by everyone else – they were welcome. Jesus’ love was bigger than whatever people thought was in the way of their acceptance. Jesus chose time and again to seek out the intention of someone’s heart — to gather together and engage in conversation as a way of seeing beyond barriers and moving toward right relationship.
Have you ever had such an experience? When you meet someone and your differences stare you in the face and you make assumptions – or you prejudge them based on their background – and you think that you will not get along or not have anything in common… and then you begin to talk – and you see beyond those apparent differences and assumed differences.
This happened last month for me – except I didn’t know about it until the day before I came home. When I was at Basic Training last month – the class was for chaplains and doctors. There were 9 chaplains and 27 doctors. On the second last day, one of the women, a doctor, who I was quite close to over the month – her room was two doors down from mine in our pod – she admitted to me at our final celebration… you know, when I heard there were chaplains in our class, I was concerned. I was really worried and thought I would have to avoid you or pretend to be someone that I was not. She said “I’m queer, and I made assumptions about you… I figured that you would reject who I am – but then I saw your rainbow watch, and heard you talk about things that I care about and speak about similar values that I have, and I knew you were all right!” That time I was the recipient of those assumptions and judgments – but often it goes the other way and is me who does the same. Remembering to approach relationships with a sense of openness and curiosity and from a place of love can help us to see beyond differences and look for the ways that we have commonality.
When we first began our time in the field, which was two weeks in, when we went to the woods for 6 days to practice our battle procedure and take turns leading missions deeper into the woods with our team, one of our instructors said to us – I don’t care if you are successful on your missions.
The missions were to rescue a pilot from the woods whose plane had been shot down, or to search for stolen rations, or to set up vehicle inspection points to stop suspicious characters along the road… These missions were important – our leadership was being assessed on how well we led these missions – and they would indicate how well we knew our battle procedure. But our instructor said – I don’t care if you are successful on your mission – but if I see that you are not working together as a team, or you are eating each other alive or letting one of your team members fail or if you are not helping each other – you are going to fail. This exercise is about teamwork, not everyone for themselves.
When we come to the table of love it is important to come to the table right with one another and God before we share in the feast.
Many of us likely know how painful meals can get when this isn’t the case. Have you ever sat at a table with family members that you are at odds with? Do you remember how awkward and unpleasant that feels?
When we hurt one another and never address how we have been hurt it can start to sink in as resentment and anxiety in our relationships. How can we be in open and honest fellowship if we have resentment and anger toward our fellow table sharer?
Let’s break down what Jesus is saying in the Matthew into 4 steps.
1. If someone sins against you, point out the fault when the two of you are alone. 2. If that doesn’t work, bring a friend or two as witnesses who can also share in the conversation. 3. If that doesn’t work, tell the church (or community) and see if a solution can’t be found for the betterment of the community. 4. If that doesn’t work, then it’s time to part ways. But not in hatred. 5.
It’s so important, when wrong has been done, for us to go up directly to the person who committed it and “point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” When we are hurt by someone, it creates an anxiety that we need to get rid of. Now if we share that with a third person instead of dealing with the conflict head on, we are triangulating and spreading the conflict and bad feelings further. This often happens in families and it happens in the church as well. If it is allowed to grow and spread, it can become a much bigger problem. Love gets suffocated in this kind of environment.
How can we feast together when we choke off the love we have for one another with unresolved conflict and hurt? How can we “lift up our hearts” when they become so heavily laden with resentment, anger, and hatred? This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to get along – but it is about accepting each other with our faults and recognizing each other as children of God.
Holy Communion is a commemoration and continuation of the Last Supper, and in the Gospel of John we receive a commandment from Jesus that Paul echoes in his epistle to the Romans: “Love one another.”
It is one thing to go to the table of love being in right relationship with the people around us that we know – but what does it mean to approach the table of love right with the neighbours we don’t know. How do we come to the table when relations with Indigenous people in our community and our country is so poor. What is our responsibility in this?
And when war is breaking out – what does it mean to be in right relationship with what is going on in Gaza and in Ukraine. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about this and she said that she was booking a vacation for her and her daughter to go to California to Disneyland next summer, and they are quite excited – it is their first time. And then she started thinking about all the children dying because of the wars happening right now in the world – and it really made her pause. We talked about this and about her feeling guilt for her good fortune while so many others are in a much different position. That act of remembering, and acknowledgement – not just ignoring what is happening around us, but being aware – in the midst of her joyful planning is an act of love. Educating ourselves about the truths of these difficult situations that happen while we are living in a much different life here is an act of love.
Part of the communion prayer that we say each time we share communion is remembrance. But it is a special kind of remembrance. The Greek word used is anamnesis which is derived from the Greek when Jesus says, “Do this in anamnesis of me.” The term means a remembering that takes into account all of time — past, present, and future. The commandment to love is built right into the ritual of communion itself. We are to remember Jesus’ example of how to love that we know from the stories of those he welcomed. We bring this remembrance to the present by proclaiming it through our very actions of gathering at the table, and we bring this remembrance to the future… it is aspirational and inspirational for our future lives because we “practice” love habits for the future at the table. We remember in our observance of Holy Communion that we aren’t just sitting back and passively recalling something, we are remembering by doing something — “Do this in remembrance of me.” These acts of love – modeled by Jesus in the past through scripture stories, the acts of love in our present lives – the way that we are in our own lives and relationships when we come to the table, and the acts of love in our future – how we want to be together and model for those who come after us – and what we aspire to be. This is the remembrance of love – do this in anamnesis of me.
Each time we share in communion, we relive a pivotal moment on our Christian story that recalls Jesus’ most profound act of love: giving himself away. “Take, eat; this is my body. Drink from this, this is my blood… do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This table of love gives us the opportunity to re-enact Jesus’ act of love to his friends; to us; to all of creation. We recall Jesus’ loving act of sacrifice in Holy Communion. We, in a sense, bring love to life in our midst.
When we remember Jesus, we remember Love. And when we remember Jesus’ act of Ultimate Love in this holy feast, we re-enact that act of love.
We remember love at the table – and we take that love out beyond the table and experience it in our lives every day in big ways and small ways and unexpected ways – and sometimes when we are seeking right relationship we find love. One of the unexpected ways that I found this kind of love in September was when our team was completing an obstacle course. When I looked at this course I thought – there is no way that I can complete that. One of the obstacles was that we had to jump into this six foot deep hole with concrete sides… and then climb out again. There wasn’t a ladder or climbing assists on the wall – just had to pull ourselves up and out. Well – my team knew I needed help, so one of them jumped in the hole ahead of me and said ok Wilks, I’m going to be your stairs – he was basically in a sitting position against the wall, and he said – step on my leg, then on my shoulder, and then climb out. And there were even team members waiting at the top to pull me out if I needed help. For me – that was an experience of love – the teamwork that I benefitted from to be able to complete an obstacle course that I thought would be impossible alone – and now I have the pride of completing it.
As we continue our journey through this series, focusing on the table as a place of hospitality and love, we are reminded of the profound lessons that the table teaches us. The table of love is a place where we not only remember Jesus but also remember love itself. And when we remember Jesus’ acts of love, we reenact that love in our lives. It’s a reminder that love is not just a passive memory but an active force that we can bring to life, both at the table and beyond, enriching our relationships and our world. May it be so.