This is Worldwide Communion Sunday, in which Christians, at least symbolically,
are united around the world, around this table, the Lord's Table.
It is for us a sacred table. Or at least as close as anything can
be sacred in the Disciples' church, this table is it. Sometimes I
get the impression that kitchens are more sacred in our theology than anything
in the sanctuary. At any rate, the Lord's Table is for us, the closest
thing that we have to a holy shrine. If you stop to think about,
however, it really is no different than any dining table in any home across
this country or around the world, because that is what Jesus used, a simple
table where they gathered for a meal. Hence our dining tables, at
where I suspect most of us will be gathered this afternoon or this evening,
are every bit or at least can be every bit as sacred as is this table.
The Bryant dining table from which I took so much nourishment in my
younger years is very much or will be some day a family heirloom, though
by no means an antique. My parents purchased it when I was in fifth
grade when our family moved to Albany. Dad had just finished seminary
in Iowa. We didn't bring much in the way of furniture with us.
We didn't really have much of anything. I still remember to this
day the big yard sale before we moved when everything that wouldn't fit
into the little U-haul trailer for the move was sold. When you have
five kids and one car to move half way across the country, you don't have
a whole lot of room for much of anything besides the bare essentials.
Rumor has it that my parents even tried to lose one of us along the way.
Fortunately, they realized it was a little quieter than normal in the back
seat before they had gone too many miles and returned to claim their abandoned
child, otherwise I'd probably still be working on some farm in Nebraska.
Somehow we all made it to Albany where we rented a home for the first
year on Third Street. One of the very first purchases we made for
our new home was the dining table. Clarence Veal, a delightful little
man and elder in the Albany church, was a furniture maker and provided
us with a beautiful maple table with 8 matching chairs that I know my parents,
fresh out of seminary with five kids to feed, could not afford. But
Clarence made it possible. Now this table is no ordinary table.
To this day I have never seen one quite like it. Clarence took one
look at our family with all five kids I know and said, this family is going
to need a table that will grow with them. It has not just one or
two or three or even four extra leaves. It has five leaves and when
you add them all, well, we have lived in houses where we would have to
put one end in the hallway or the next room it was so long. Of course
for most meals we only need a couple of leaves, even with all seven of
us present. But for those special occasions, holidays or other events
when the relatives and friends would join us, we would expand the table
so all could sit around it. Now when we gather as a family, with
all the spouses and grandkids, we need every leaf and then some.
Today my memories of that table are filled with warmth and joy and yes,
a touch of sadness. In many ways we grew up around that table, gathering
every evening for family dinner, holding hands for the blessing.
Telling stories of what happened at school that day or at work. Holding
family councils. I remember one occasion particularly difficult when
we met as a family around the table to discuss the sale of our home on
Nebragal Loop in Albany because we lived so far out of town--three miles--
and gas was $.27/gallon and we couldn't afford it anymore! So we
decided to sell the house and move into town, which lasted about a year
before we sold that house and moved back to the country, about ten miles
out. All the important family gatherings took place around that table.
The birthdays we celebrated. Mom bringing in the freshly baked birthday
cake with all the candles that would light up the dining room and glisten
the formica top of the maple table. The guests who joined us for
Sunday dinners. Missionaries from around the world, exchange students
from Corvallis that Mom would invite to join us for Thanksgiving or Christmas
because they had no where else to go. The games we played round the
table. Take out the leaves and scrunch it together and it is just
right for pinochle and other card games. Those were such happy, wondrous
times around the maple table. Miraculous, too. I remember ten
years ago when my daughter sat at that time for her first time, and took
her very first bite of solid food. If you can call whirled bananas
solid food. So many wonderful events. That table has been in
10 different houses. Indeed, our family moved so often I had to call
home to find out where they were. One time I came home from a state
youth event and there was a note on the door. It said, Dear Dan, we've moved. Love, your parents. No kidding! Wherever
we lived, it didn't matter what the house was like or where it was, because
I knew if that table was there, that is where home was. That table
has been very important to the Bryant clan for over 35 years now, the center
piece of our family.
Luke understands the importance of tables. Forty times tables
are mentioned in the gospels and half of those are in the gospel of Luke.
He uses tables twice as often as John and four times as often as Matthew
or Mark. Some of the most powerful things that Jesus says or does
are there at the table. And the worst indictment that his enemies
can bring up against him, is that he welcomes sinners and eats with them.
You see the table is a very sacred place and Jesus, in the mind of some,
has defiled it. Jesus is at dinner with religious leaders and I suspect
it was a very nice dinner when they brought out all the fine china and
the good crystal, a very elaborate meals designed to impress the distinguished
guest, the reported miracle-worker from Nazareth. The host goes to
great lengths to make it a very proper meal. What happens?
A woman off the street, you know, one of those kind. We all know
what they do but we don't talk about it openly. This woman comes
in, uninvited, to this fine dinner party and washes Jesus' feet with her
tear and dries them with her hair there, at that sacred table. The
host is livid. He is angry. How dare she defile my table with
her presence. Jesus responds with tender, loving compassion and forgives
At another table, a Pharisee has invited Jesus over for dinner, put
on another nice meal, and it is there, at that table, that Jesus chooses
to give his sharpest indictment against the religious leadership.
Woe to you religious leaders for your hypocrisy. In chapter 14 Jesus
gives us a few table manners. When you are invited to a feast don't
take your place at the head table, go to the foot so that you won't be
humiliated if you are in the wrong spot. He gives us advise on developing
the invitation list for our dinner parties. Don't invite those people
who can repay you, those people you are trying to impress, getting on their
good side. Invite the people who can't repay you, the people no one
else will invite. Only in so doing will you be truly blessed, says
Someone says to him, 'Happy are those who sit at the table of the Lord
in the Kingdom of God.' Jesus responds with the story of the Great
Banquet, where the invitations are sent out and the people say, 'Oh, I
am too busy, I can't come.' The master of the house sends out his
servant, and says, 'Tell people to come in for my table must be filled.'
And so we learn that in God's realm there are not reserved tables.
Jesus says, indeed, there is no discrimination at God's table. People
from all corners of the earth, are welcome and will be treated and served
equally. Then in contrast to these tables in the realm of God is
the table at which Lazarus is forced to beg for crumbs from the rich man.
Remember, that rich man is condemned for his treatment of Lazarus.
Hence we know that wherever people are forced to subsist off the crumbs
from someone else's table, there sits a condemned person.
Then in the last chapter of the Luke, the wonderful story of the two
on the road to Emmaus. When they are perplexed and trying to understand
what all the recent events mean, the crucifixion, the reports of Jesus'
resurrection, and then a stranger comes to them, interprets the Bible to
them, opens their eyes. But it is not until they invite him and they
sit down for dinner and he breaks the bread, blesses it, and then their
eyes are opened and they recognize the risen Christ, at the table.
Finally in this passage this morning, we have three tables. Did
you catch them all? There is first of all the familiar Passover meal,
the commemoration of when the Hebrews were liberated under Moses from slavery
in Egypt, an event celebrated for 3000 years around the table of Jewish
homes. According to that tradition, the youngest child present always
ask at the meal, 'Why is this night different from all the rest?'
The elder of the house tells the story of how God liberated them from their
bondage. We can rest assured that on that night when Jesus gather
with his disciples that the youngest present asked that question and Jesus
told the story. But Jesus departs from the Haggadah, the prescribed
liturgy, and adds a new element. When he talks about God's liberation,
he takes that bread, gives it to them and says, 'This is my body, this
is how God is working to liberate you.' So Christians throughout
the ages have gathered around the table and told the stories of Jesus.
This table has become for us a meal symbolizing our liberation and our
But Luke's story differs a little from Matthew and Mark at this point.
In the other gospels Judas is revealed as the betrayer before the meal
and presumably leaves at that point so we just have the meal with the faithful.
But not so in Luke. Did you notice that it is not until afterwards
that Jesus says, 'But see, the one who betrays me is with me and his hand
is on the table.' Judas, the betrayer, is right there, all along,
celebrating with the other disciples that original Lord's supper.
When you are making up your invitation list for your dinner, do you invite
someone who has betrayed you, someone who has stabbed you in the back,
someone who has sold you out? Jesus did. Not only that, but
he takes the bread, and he gives it to Judas, and he says, 'This is my
body, broken for you, Judas, for you.' Some of the most powerful
things that Jesus ever did are done at the table.
Luke also differs from the other gospels in that he adds two more stories
at this point. The argument of the disciples, who is the greatest,
occurs here at this point. Jesus says, according only to Luke's version, 'For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?
Is it not the one at the table, the guest, the host?' Who pays attention
to the servants? We may applaud for them when the meal is all done
or leave them a nice tip, but that's about it. Jesus says, 'I am
among you as one who serves.'
Then comes the time when the meal is all over, to pass out the awards.
Did you know that this was an awards ceremony? There is an award
for the disciple who is the most improved, the one who has memorized the
most scripture... So my version may be a little different from yours.
In both of our versions, Jesus says, 'You are those who have stood by me
for my trials.' See, Jesus is about to pass out the award for loyalty.
The ones who have stayed with him through thick and thin are finally going
to get their due. What is the reward that Jesus has to offer, the
highest award for loyalty? 'So that you may eat and drink at my table
in the Kingdom of God.' There is no higher award than this.
Do you suppose that Luke just kind of threw these stories together,
without much thought to it? Had a couple of table stories left over,
had to put them in some where. Is it a coincidence that Luke has
so many tables in his gospel? Or might there be a connection to all
of these table stories? Perhaps Luke is trying to tell us something
about the character of the Lord's table. For instance, that it is
at the Lord's table that we are called to serve as well as to be served.
At the Lord's Table we are called to reconcile ourselves with our enemies
and to be forgiven of our sins. At the Lord's Table we are called
to sit with sinners and outcasts and foreigners and the poor. At
the Lord's Table is one of the few places we can demonstrate the oneness
of the body of Christ and the unity of humanity. At the Lord's table,
when these things happen, we know that Christ is in our midst.
Fred Craddock, popular Disciples' preacher and scholar, tells the story
of his experience studying in Tuebingen, German, in 1969. At the
time he did not know a lot of German so when he would take the train to
another part of the country, he would always try to sit some place where
there were lots of other people so the conversation would never depend
on him. Trains, in Europe, you understand have these little cubicles
where you sit facing one another, rather than staring at the back of someone's
head, you are sitting knee to knee with four or five others, much more
conducive for conversation. So Fred would always sit in a compartment
where there were several others and he could just smile and say 'Ja' or 'Nein' and impress people with this linguistic ability so that no one would
catch own that he wasn't one of them.
One particular day he was head back to Tuebingen and the train was full.
He got to the very end of the train, only one compartment left, and wouldn't
you know it, it had just one person, an older woman. Fred entered
in, said ' Guten Tag.' She smiled and nodded. Fred sat down,
thought for several miles, formulated a good sentence in his mind, made
sure it was conjugated properly, all in the right order and said, 'Sehr
schoen Heute, nicht wahr?' 'Nice day, isn't it?' She nodded
and smiled. Fred thought to himself, I know more German than this
lady. Fred was feeling brave now so he added, 'I'm headed for Tuebingen,
and you?' She replied, simply, 'Rohstock'. Fred thought, 'Rohstock,
Rohstock? That's on the other side of the wall, that's in East Germany,
Communist Germany!' He bluntly asked, 'Are you from Communist Germany?'
She answered, 'East Germany.' Fred had never met someone from East
Germany before. He didn't know why, but for some reason he dared
to ask, 'Are you a communist?' 'No,' she said, 'I'm a Christian.'
Fred sighed, somewhat relieved I supposed, and said, 'So am I, from America.'
'Yes,' she said, 'I can tell.'
So they began to tell stories of what it was like to live as a Christian
in a communist country and what it was like to live as a Christian in a
capitalist country. They shared stories of their families and got
out pictures of their children and grandchildren. She was on her
way home from Switzerland, had been celebrating Christmas with grandchildren
there and was bring back present for grandchildren in Rohstock. One
of the gifts was a music box that played Silent Night. She wound
it up and as they moved through that dark German night they sang together
that favorite carol of both countries. It was a wonderful fellowship,
the two of them.
Fred was beginning to get a little hungry. He had picked up a
sandwich from a vending machine in the train station. He decided
it would not be polite to eat in front of her so he figured he would just
break it in half and share it with his new friend. But German bread
is not like American bread, not made by Wonder. And this particular
bread had obviously spent some time in the vending machine. First
he tried to tear in it half, then he tried breaking it, then he tried hitting
it on his knee. Finally he got it into two pieces. By that
time he realized that she had taken out an orange, carefully peeled it
and divided it in neatly in half. She offered to him half an orange
and he to her half a sandwich. They came to Stuttgart where they
were to change trains, one for Tuebingen, one for Rohstock. So they
said their goodbyes. Fred said, 'God be with you'. She answered, 'and with
Fred says every since then, whenever he goes to a church, he always
checks their menu, to see what they serve. He says that he has discovered
that where they serve half a sandwich and half an orange, it is a Christian
church where the spirit of Christ is alive. But where they serve
whole sandwiches and whole oranges, each to their own, that's another story.
When I heard Fred tell this story years ago down in Claremont, he told
us that he got to thinking about the lady in Rohstock and started wondering,
how far is it from here to Rohstock? So he got a map and measured
precisely how far it was, measured it out in inches and converted it to
kilometers. He asked us, 'Do you know how far it is from here, from
this place to Rohstock, where that Christian sister lives. I know,
I measured it. It is precisely the width of that table.'
You see, if I read Luke right, that table is just as wide as the world.