09/01/2019 – Table Manners
Luke 14: 1-14
A Communion Meditation by Thomas R. McKibbens
September 1, 2019
Has it ever struck you as odd that at the center of Christian worship is a table? Why not a sermon? Why not the offering? Why not the music? Why not testimonies as to how God is working in our lives during the week? All of these have been a central part of worship, but the reality is that a symbolic meal remains central in Christian worship. Why would that be so?
It certainly was not modeled by other dominant religions of the day. Jewish worship in the Temple was centered around animal sacrifice. In the synagogue the focal point of worship was the Torah. Religions around the Mediterranean world tended to be centered around a sun god or a fertility god or a god of war. The official religion of the Roman Empire centered, of course, on the worship of the emperor. So there was no contemporary religion that served as a model in which the central act of worship was a meal.
And the fact that for Christians today a symbolic meal is still central to worship is no less surprising. None of the other major religions of our day emphasizes this. Islam centers its worship around the Koran. Buddhism centers its worship around meditation. Judaism still centers its worship around the Torah.
In addition, the popular secular religions offer no model. Consumerism, perhaps the most dominant secular form of religion in our culture, centers its worship around the credit card. Narcissism, which would surely run a close second to consumerism in our pantheon of cultural religions, centers its worship around good looks, fashion, youth, and sex appeal. And I hardly need to mention sports! The list could run on and on, but none would include a table as the center of worship.
A table is so ordinary, so basic, so plain! Yet at the center of every Christian place of worship, whether gothic cathedral or converted high school gym, there is a table. We may enhance it with ornate carvings of Christian symbols; we may decorate it with candles; we may adorn it with a cross; but underneath it all is a plain table. Take away all the accoutrements of worship, and what you have is a kitchen table! There is hardly anything more plain and simple, yet absolutely essential in many a home, than the kitchen table.
There is something about a table that transcends all our differences. When you get your knees under the kitchen table you are all on the same level! Have you noticed that this is not a denominational table? There is no sign on the front of the table that says “For UCC, Baptists, or Unitarians Only!” The table transcends all denominations. It has nothing to do with the bewildering array of splits and divisions that have historically created dozens of denominations within the larger Christian world.
Furthermore, it is not a political table. There is a place around this table for Democrats and Republicans and Independents, for the tuned in and the tuned out, for idealists and pessimists. Why? Because there is a spiritual hunger in our world that transcends all our ideological, social, or generational differences.
Furthermore, this is not a pedigreed table. You don’t have to have a certain pedigree to come to this table. We ask for no proof of residence, no ID card, no FICO score. There is no racial or ethnic qualification. This meal is not confined to any one nationality. There is no checking of passports for those coming here. There is no dress code required for this meal. Blue collar or white collar, clerical collar or no collar; it makes no difference.
There is only one qualification required for this meal: you have to know that you are spiritually hungry and thirsty. There are, of course, people who are literally dying of spiritual hunger and thirst and don’t even know it. They are immersed in secular substitutes for the real thing. It seems to them that there is nothing in this world that they cannot do. But stretch limos and red carpets, elegant restaurants, and beautiful bodies do not fill the spiritual void that yearns to be filled at this table.
We all know that one of the most important staff members at the White House is the person who is called Chief of Protocol. It is considered so important that the position has the rank of Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State. When there is a state dinner, the Chief of Protocol determines who will sit where. To be seated near the head table is a sign of how distinguished you are.
The Chief of Protocol for this meal is Christ himself. He makes it clear that sitting near the head table is not a special honor. He says, All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. It is the church’s privileged task to hold up this truth before our culture.
So welcome to this meal. My name is Tom. The Deacons and I will be your waiters today. I will review with you today’s special. Our entrée is a tiny piece of bread along with a thimble-full of Welch’s grape juice of recent vintage that we refer to as “wine” with tongue in cheek. That is not only the special for today, it is the entire menu! That is the only choice, but I can say from long experience that it will nourish you to the depths of your soul.
The bill for this meal has already been paid by our host, represented by the cross before you. He has made just one request: he asks that we mind our manners.