God, who sets the table before us, move the heavy-laden from our minds move the care-laden from our hearts, create a feast of bread and wine to share with those we cannot touch. Amen.
It is not easy to eat with a mask on. Though I have to be honest. I haven’t tried. Most of my meals have been prepared at home by…me. I continue to limit myself to carry out when I must satisfy those occasional cravings for a Double Butter Burger Basket from Culver’s or a spinach calabrese from Aurelio’s Pizza. My last meal out before quarantine was at Cortona’s in Fortville on March 15 after church with Elizabeth. Delicious Italian food. The only meal I have had out was to celebrate my youngest heading off to college. We went to a new Italian spot in Carmel called Savor because they had a very spacious outdoor dining area. Can you tell I have a taste for northern Mediterranean cuisine?
Speaking of food. I know that I am not the only foodie out there. I remember a delightful Birthday Dinner not too long ago in our fellowship hall. We like to eat. And I dream of the day where that meal with you all can happen again.
In the meantime, there are meals at home, alone, with my dog. My bi-weekly visits with my parents in Bloomington where I pick up something tasty to bring for lunch. This coming week is their anniversary and I am coming down for the evening and picking up from one of their favorite spots, Samira. And mine too! I thoroughly enjoy Afghan food. (Mom, you asked me for my order for Thursday. I want the Chicken Manto, please. Chicken manto is a steamed dumpling filled with chicken, white leeks, cilantro, topped with tomato-basil sauce and spiced yogurt. Divine.)
I am getting hungry with all this talk about fine food. It’s like when I read Ernest Hemingway. Here’s a writer that basically tells it like it is. Simple prose. Not much interiority to characters or psychological psycho-babble. But when Hemingway writes about food. Oh, my. My favorite book of his is even named after a food event, The Moveable Feast. I am all for moving feasts. Take this passage: “I asked for a distingue, the big glass mug that held a liter, and for potato salad. The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes a l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes a l’huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce. I mopped up all the oil and all of the sauce with bread and drank the beer slowly until it began to lose its coldness and then I finished it and ordered a demi and watched it drawn. It seemed colder than the distingue and I drank half of it.” Oh, MY! It’s a wonder Hemingway could write after all that drink!
With all of this talk about food, I for one am very grateful that God lowered the divine menu from the heavens and said, Eat. Eat anything. Eat everything! Three times. Eat. Eat. Eat. (Remember, this is Peter so anything needs to be repeated three times for him to get it.) Does Peter get it?
For those of us who are currently wandering through the book of Acts in our Bible Study we know that Peter gets it. We also know that this vision, this dream, is NOT about food. Peter awakens from the trance and goes to the gentile Cornelius’ house. Peter is greeted. He begins by saying, You know that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate with or to visit a person of another race. Yes, they all know. And here’s the line where Peter shares with the world that he gets it: God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean. Peter goes on, In truth, I am grasping that God is no respecter of appearances. God is Lord of all!
I have fantastic memories of meals shared with…all. A meal with clergy friends to end a trip in Rome; a meal that began with mussels and ended with limoncello. Meals at my parent’s house as they hosted international students from all over the globe attending Indiana University; an operatic soprano from New Zealand, a Chinese couple in the business school, and a Swiss piano player that became like family. Many meals with Swedish cousins that stayed with us when I was in school. I remember Greek Easter meals at my aunt’s with the old men turning the lamb on the spit. I remember countless Cinco de Mayo’s. A meal with the Saysongkhams, a Laotian boat family that the church of my youth brought to the United States. A traditional Swedish Christmas Eve dinner with lutefisk and brunne benner and potataskorp. A seminary class on world Christian history where we ate at a different ethnic restaurant every week. And Thanksgiving, that always started with mussels and ended with the bouquet of asparagus throughout the evening hours.
A culinary delight for the taste buds and for the friendships and now family across the globe. I get it. Just like Peter got it. It is about food. And, it is so much more than just food. There is an ominous ending in today’s text. The New International Version that Steve read doesn’t do the ending to Peter’s dream justice. It reads, Immediately the sheet was taken back up to heaven. But the Greek word used for the sheet that comes down from heaven in verse eleven, othone, is NOT the word used in verse sixteen. Verse sixteen in the New Revised Standard Version reads, “The thing, skeous, was suddenly taken up to heaven.”
Something happens here. Something very, very important. An indication. A warning for our all-too-human and sinful natures. God lowers from the heavens a sheet with every animal on it. A sheet with every thing and every possibility. A sheet that declares, NO person is common. NO person is unclean. This beautiful vision of the universality of God’s love, grace, call it what you will, comes down from the heavens…and then the vision ends. The vision, the dream becomes…a thing. A thing. And what happens when people turn dreams and visions…and other people…into things?
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.
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 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:
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?