Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Table

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5)

Few things speak of love and grace and deep affection like a table prepared: prepared with you in mind without the slightest effort on your part. You simply show up, and there it is. It is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can receive. Just come, arrive at the stated time, and all will be ready.

“What can I bring?” we ask.

We feel like we really do need to contribute something. But invariably the answer is the same. “Nothing – just bring yourself.”

That’s the problem. We don’t believe that bringing our “self” is enough. We know that self too well. We know its flaws, its dark impulses, its pettiness. To bring nothing but my own unadorned self seems so inadequate. If I can show up with something in my hands I prove myself, even if only a little. I say with my contribution, “You see, I’m fairly capable in my own right; I can make something; I’m worthy of my seat at the table. After all, I prepared part of what’s in front of us.”

But the host means it. We’re not being consulted about the menu. These preparations leave no room for our input. Just show up. It will all be ready.

Just Dropping By 
Few things say home like a table prepared: prepared for you without the least little bit of warning. You didn’t need an invitation. You simply drop in, unannounced, and someone gets up and pulls things out of the refrigerator or the pantry. Nothing fancy or elaborate. But it’s there for you just because you’re there. No other reason is necessary.

Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?

When my family moved back to Atlanta from North Carolina nearly thirteen years ago we came home. Marnie was born and raised here. I had lived my high school years in the area. My in-laws were (and are) close by. My Mom and Dad are also living in one of Atlanta’s far north suburbs.

I regularly have a table prepared for me. Sometimes it’s planned. Other times not. Sometimes at my parents’ house I show up and there’s something there to be set out for me. At the very least I’m free to just help myself. I graze their abundance without apology. That’s what it’s like to be home.

Everything is Ready 
From time to time it is my privilege to serve early communion on Sunday mornings in our 8:20 a.m. service. Over the years I’ve heard and adopted some language at the communion table that I picked up from my friend and colleague Vicki Franch. After breaking the bread and pouring the cup there is a short line of invitation.

“Friends, these are God’s good gifts for you, the people of God, and everything is ready. Come to the table.”

“Everything is ready.” I love that line. Indeed, our shepherd God prepares a table before us. In the Psalm this may be a poetic image. Phillip Keller says that shepherds did in fact pasture their sheep on high flat lands known as “mesas” or table lands.

But the real table was prepared in Jesus. We bring nothing to this table. It’s all grace. Everything is ready.

Today is a day for giving thanks. And even now, as you read this, no matter what time it is, a table is being made ready for you. You will have all you need. You will have more than enough.

Just show up.

We give you thanks, O God, for the table you make ready for us each and every day – for your faithful provision and abundant grace. We come to this day empty handed, relying entirely on your grace. Thank you for making everything ready in the gift of your son, through whom we receive your abundance. Amen.