In the Wall household of my childhood, our family of five often sat down to meals together. We positioned ourselves according to a seating arrangement that was never discussed, but was always followed. Dad sat at the head of the table, Mom sat to his right, and little brother Ben sat to his left. I sat to the left of Ben, directly across from my sister Phyllis, who sat to Mom’s right.
While we surely had our fair share of dinner-table squabbles (Ben never appreciated it when I perched my foot on his chair frame), my memories of sitting down at that table evoke a sense of comfort and togetherness. And though there were certain behaviors that could get you immediately excused from the table, what I remember best is that mealtimes were the expression of loving care and inclusion.
Consider this metaphor of the table as it plays out in both the gospel story of Jesus and in the gospel-shaped story of the Church. It’s fascinating to watch how often, and with whom, Jesus sits down at a table in the Gospels. Jesus was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, and caricatured as a “glutton and a drunkard” for his frequent table fellowship with the unrighteous. Jesus told a number of parables about banquets, comparing the Kingdom of God with a great feast. In Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son, the surest sign that the lost son was truly welcomed home was the party his father threw for him. In Jericho, Zacchaeus received Jesus at his table as an expression of his change of heart. One of the most enduring practices of the Church began during the last supper, when Jesus infused Passover bread and wine with new significance. There, Jesus promised his disciples that they would eat and drink at his table in the coming kingdom. Is it any wonder, then, that in Emmaus, the resurrected Lord was finally recognized when he sat at table and broke the bread?
In the Church, the significance of the table has endured through countless cultures and centuries. Even today, the table retains a prominent place in our worship assemblies, both as a visible symbol of what we value and as a tangible reminder of the practical implications of the Lord’s Supper. The table of the Lord calls to mind many vital truths: that we are members of the family of God; that somebody loved us enough to welcome and include us around this table; that we are accepted—period—due to the graciousness of our host; that we are called to a new way of life by our table host; that we are in need of physical and spiritual sustenance on our journey; and that we are called to extend the same welcome to any who hunger and thirst for the bread of life and the living water. May God grant that we become the kind of community that makes a place at the table for every soul that hungers, and every heart that thirsts.