Rev. Lyle McKenzie – Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 / Psalm 111 / Ephesians 5:15-20 / John 6:51-58
“That’s a big table…”
The National Anglican Lutheran Worship Conference was in Victoria in July, and one of the sessions and worship times was at Church of the Cross. It brought people from various places together and into that space for the first time, including the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz. We were talking together as he surveyed the space, he was complimentary of its flexibility and openness, and then he said, “That’s a big table.” And he noticed it was actually two tables that could be configured in two ways. I acknowledged its size, but said, “It doesn’t seem as big when people are gathered around it.”
Which is true; it looks big when the space is empty…
This is a good size table as well… you may more often refer to it as the altar, and most people would at Church of the Cross as well, despite my using the term, “table” intentionally for years… It’s a good size table, but like the table at Church of the Cross, “It could be bigger…”
I’ve been reading a book titled, A Bigger Table – Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz. He is a pastor and has a popular blog, Stuff That Needs to Be Said. The book uses the image/metaphor of a “bigger table” to reflect on the communities we hope to be in faithfulness to Jesus.
He suggests the four legs of that bigger table are, “radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity and agenda-free community,” in contrast to much of what we have created as Christian communities that gather around much smaller, less welcoming, honest, diverse, freeing and faithful tables in the name of Jesus. Surprisingly, despite the image, the writer does not speak of the table in a sacramental way – as Eucharist or the Holy Communion table. I think it is an essential connection – the table is central to us. You could say, “It’s big.” And using the book’s image, we could say, “It could be bigger.”
Our tables have gotten bigger. One expression of that is our gathering for joint worship again this morning. An expression of our “Full Communion” partnership, we gather around the table together. Isn’t it good and right that these are the words we use to
describe what we hold in common, “Full Communion.” Our tables include one another, or essentially, we share one bigger table.
But this partnership, as good as it is, is only a step. It’s one expansion of our table, with more to follow. Because the table Jesus sets has no size limit… as this whole long chapter in John’s Gospel tells us, beginning with feeding thousands to the reading today and Jesus being the bread of life “for the world.”
It will be five weeks in these bread texts ending next Sunday – (pastors/preachers are wise to take vacation during these weeks to avoid running out of things to say about Jesus being the bread of life… Pastor Joan preaching at Church of the Cross last week included a reference to the Rolling Stones… “You can’t always get what you want…” – any sermon that quotes the Stones is about a bigger table…) Now four weeks in and Jesus’ words are the most literal and insistent and offensive about eating (gnawing) his flesh and drinking his blood. Offense is exactly what Jesus and the gospel writer may want to evoke, separating the community of believers in Jesus from others, and acknowledging the centrality of this Eucharist/Holy Communion practise. This, in the gospel that has no last supper story, replacing it with Jesus washing his follower’s feet. But the feeding stories in the gospel that we have been hearing and Jesus’ words about being the bread of life are all about the practise of Eucharist/Holy Communion for Jesus’ followers and the gospel writer’s community, and the calling to feed a hungry neighbour and world. The words of Jesus today are literal, even graphic, but they cannot and must be understood literally. Jesus’ words are sacramental. Jesus speaks of a meal with Jesus as host and food and drink, in giving himself as bread of life for the world. We get this, we share this, the Eucharist, meaning thanksgiving meal, Holy Communion, a sacred meal in communion with God/Jesus, all humanity, and all creation. Jesus sets a table of God’s grace that couldn’t be bigger, and is literally about feeding the world.
In the case of our tables of Eucharist/Holy Communion, is the insistence of these words that the table of Jesus is the centre of our life together, inviting everyone again and again into our dependence on God to graciously feed us with the bread of life in Jesus; and that this table of God, to use Pavlovitz’s words, calls us to set ever bigger tables of “radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity and agenda-free community,” in an ever expanding life together in God’s/Jesus’ gracious feeding?
Think about your experience of the Eucharist/Holy Communion. What are the significant memories, times and places of sharing this gift/means of God’s grace in Jesus, bread of life for the world?
Think about all the ways and places of sharing Jesus’ meal: in prisons and care facilities, hospitals and homes, universities and church camps; in protests at the gates of detention centres, across false borders and barriers, with the hungry and homeless; kneeling, standing, sitting, singing, dancing; in silence, with tears and grief stricken faces, with joy and even laughter; with precious metal and jeweled vessels to a coffee cup, or dual zip top creamer-like-container with wafer and wine in one convenient disposable and sanitary package available at your local church supply store – no kidding, and I question if this is faithful to the meal Jesus instituted… all of this to acknowledge this meal of Jesus/God continues to nourish the world at a table that is larger and ever expanding in ways we may not have or yet imagined. A bigger table is what Jesus always set, open to all. A bigger table is what Jesus is calling us to set, open to all.
This meal of Jesus calls us to join in feeding a hungry world with radical hospitality, honesty about our own failings past and present, inviting and celebrating diversity beyond our prejudices, and without agendas of trying to shore up our own rightness or righteousness, fears or failings, church survival or competition, tradition or practise. If the gracious meal of Jesus means anything, it is that we are called to offer the same in feeding a hungry world.
At UVic for the last few years, the students of Hillel House, a student house of the Jewish community and the MSA – the Muslim Student Association, have invited one another to share a common meal together. This is a radical and transforming experience for many students, and an important example of the bigger table Jesus calls us to share with others.
The Shelbourne Community Kitchen shares meals each week with those struggling with food security and assisted by others to grow and cook and connect together. As we keep track of those who communed in our congregations each week, I wonder if we should include those who are sharing meals at the Kitchen among the communing numbers of our communities? Isn’t this part of the bigger table Jesus shows us?
We could add the Day Camp and snacks so carefully and lovingly prepared for the children and volunteers, “messy church” suppers here or the Fall Supper at Church of the Cross, or a Shrove Tuesday pancake community supper together. All of this and more is about the meal of Jesus at an ever bigger table that we practise, being fed by God in Jesus, and joining in feeding and being fed with all others in this great and hungry world.
It’s a big table and by God’s grace it just gets bigger and bigger. It’s a gracious meal I long for every week, every meal and hear Jesus calling us to share with others always, and in all ways, with God/Jesus as host and nourishment for all. It’s the biggest table of God’s grace. Thanks be to God; And all our relations. May it be true for us; and Amen.