Table of Contents – What a Table!

A representation of table of Presence

So let’s begin with…what DOES the Table for the Bread of Presence actually look like? Keeping in mind that a cubit is the length from an elbow to one’s fingertips – give or take a finger – it looks maybe like this? Enough room for the twelve loaves of bread; each loaf representing a tribe of Israel. It’s a lovely table…if you’re into gold. Keep in mind, like any good artist designer, God’s tastes evolved over time and by the time Micah gets on the scene, God is more interested in mercy and not in the trappings that surround sacrifice.

My “utilitarian” table

So, maybe my poor, little, front porch table – where the best thing that can be said about it is, “It certainly is utilitarian” – maybe my humble table is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. So, I will not give in to comparison, which in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, is “the thief of joy.”

Instead, I will rejoice at sitting at THIS table!

My inherited table

My dining room table which passed on to me from my great-aunt Phyllis Cole who received it in turn from her mother, my great-grandmother, Jennie Waggoner. It’s a lovely walnut table with buffet and can be stretched out from its present circular shape with six inserts so that twelve could sit comfortably around it. I understand that the table could, if Jennie didn’t sit at the end all by herself – closest to the kitchen, mind you – seat thirteen. But Grandma Jennie insisted to never seat thirteen at the table for obvious reasons. (To which my tongue-in-cheek response today is, Jennie, there were thirteen at the Lord’s table that fateful night.)

I sit here and imagine the people who have gathered around this table for holiday dinners and family meals. History’s times and events that unfolded in the newspapers spread across the table-top. This table was in Dixon, Illinois, in 1918 when the Spanish Flu pandemic swept through the world. I wonder the thoughts and worries of my great-grandfather, Harvey Garland Waggoner, as he sought to minister to his congregation during that time. And his thoughts about his five children and wife that surrounded the table with him.

Did he have thoughts of his own mortality as he broke bread? He died in 1922 leaving Jennie to sit at the head of this table with her five children and watch alone as they grew up into their own lives. I imagine great-grandma Jennie in those times when she sat alone at this table, as I have often sat alone at this table. But then there are grandchildren and more children that come into the picture. New faces and children of God to sit at new places where familiar faces from the past once sat. Here’s a picture of Jennie at this table laid out for a Christmas dinner:

My great grandmother, Jennie Waggoner (late 1940’s?)

And now, eighty years later I am doing an online worship service at her table.  She would certainly understand about the adjustments needed in life due to a pandemic. Though she may be a bit puzzled at the technology of today that surrounds this process of broadcasting from her table, my guess is that she would understand that though times may change the purpose of the table remains the same: to make memories and to remember.

What tables do you remember? There was a picnic table that I built. My parent’s kitchen table and the formal dining room table that they received from my grandmother. Isn’t it funny how stuff gets passed along and the memories that trail along with each piece. My mom reminded me this week of what her mother said to her when grandma came to visit after moving out of her house in Eureka, Illinois to take up permanent residence in Florida. She would say, “I love to visit my daughters so I can see my furniture again.” So many tables.

And today, so much is coming to the tables of our lives. A pandemic that brings new meaning to the parental demand, “Wash your hands before coming to the table.” The keen awareness that our tables so sharply reflect the divide of race in our culture. The economics of today decide what is on each table and how different tables laden with food and drink actually are. And the politics talked around each table. Or, what is more probably the case, where politics are NOT talked around the table when the entire family is gathered.

Same table. Different people. Different fare. Although Jennie’s bran muffins will always be served at this table. Different world. Same table.

It is a fancy, golden table that God asks to be created for the forty-year wandering of the tribes of Israel in the wilderness. A fancy table created for the wilderness. My guess is this: it wasn’t too much trouble for the tribes of Israel to make the table that God asked them to create. God asks nothing more from us today as we wander through the current wilderness of our time. Make a table.

As we begin this four-week reflection upon the Table and Communion, my hope is for you to take the time to seriously consider what the Table looks like for you…for us…today. What does a table look like when we cannot physically gather around that table? Where does the “gold” that God asks to cover and surround the table come from? What is that gold? Here’s where I think the gold comes from: Your answer to the question, What tables can you create this week?

And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always. Exodus 25:30

Presence,
Giver of all presents,
presented on the table
is the bread of the Presence,
presently
uneaten.
If You are not going to eat it
can I have a bite?
Or, if my request smites you as selfish
might I share it with the hungry?
Amen.