I Corinthians 11:23-26
I love to tell a story about an old kitchen table. To tell this story, I need to go back to my boyhood home – way back to the mid-1960's. Now for those of you who are celebrating your first communion tonight, I know that must sound like ancient history. But it was somewhere back then when my parents bought a new kitchen table.
Well, it wasn’t really brand new – but we called it new – because it was new for us. Neighbors of ours were moving, and selling all of their household goods. And my parents – well, my mother really – bought their kitchen table, and brought it home, and set it up in our kitchen. It cost her $45, which was a good deal for a kitchen table, even back then.
It was a wood table – with a Formica top – with four wooden arm chairs to go around it. Nothing really outstanding about it, but oh, what an improvement over the really old kitchen table – vintage 1950's – red with chrome colored legs and chairs to match. Now that table would probably be worth a lot of money to someone today as an antique.
But we just loved our new kitchen table. And for years it served as the place – especially at dinner time – where my family would get together – my mother, my father, my brother and sister, and me. And we would eat and we would talk and we would just enjoy being together as a family – well – most of the time anyway.
Then the years went by. I went to college. Graduated. And I moved away. Left the city of Niagara Falls for a job in the big city – Dayton, Ohio. That was way back in April of 1977– in fact, I have to tell you, that that was 40 years ago this week! I know – ancient history.
Well, some four – five months later, my parents came out for a visit. They had a surprise for me. “We bought a new kitchen table,” they said, “and we thought you might like the old one.” Let me tell you – it sure beat the aluminum folding table I had been using.
And let me tell you, that kitchen table moved with me five times. From my apartment to a house that I shared with two other guys to my own house – all still in Dayton, Ohio – and again when I got married to my beloved wife Nancy – I moved that table to a parsonage in Elma. And finally, when Nancy and I bought our first house together, that kitchen table followed us there too.
I think of the meals that were shared around that table. The conversations. The fellowship. The guests we entertained. From the time I was a boy – to when I was a single man living alone – to having a wife and kids of my own.
And I think about that table, and I see a young family where two little boys learned to eat on their own. And the birthday parties – the work projects – the homework that was done at that table.
But, eventually, the chairs started coming unglued, and the arms started cracking. That old table was showing a lot of wear. And about that time, it was time for another move – this time to a new house in a place called Clarence Center. It really was not a difficult decision – well not for Nancy, anyway – to put that old table in the “We’re Moving” garage sale. I guess the nice thing is – the table my mother bought for $45 – I sold for $50 some 25 or so years later.
Well, we now have a new kitchen table. Actually, we’ve had this new table for 24 years, but it still seems new to me. But you know – it doesn’t matter whether it’s old or new. You see, there is something special about a kitchen table.
The kitchen table is the place where families get together. There’s laughter – sometimes there’s quarrels – and occasionally, a tear or two is shed. Folks come and folks go, but mostly, folks just keep coming back to the kitchen table. To share food – and to share more than food. It’s the place where we ask, “How was school today?” Or say, “Guess what happened to me today.”
Here is where we share our worries, our joys, our fears. Where? At the kitchen table. It’s true in my house. I’m sure it’s true in your house too. You have your own stories to tell. It very well may be the most important piece of furniture in the house – the piece of furniture that – more than anything – else says, “Home.”
I hope you see where I’m going with this, because, you see, this family – this church family – has its own kitchen table too. But you won’t find it in the kitchen. And ours happens to be really old. Over a hundred years old. Made out of wood – oak – with intricate, detailed carvings. We can’t always see them because they’re covered with altar cloths called paraments.
By the way, what you’re looking at right now is a picture of Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper. And we’re not sure, because it’s not recorded in the Bible – but we think this is where Jesus said, “Hey! Everybody on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture!”
Anyway, our church’s family table is called an altar. And it’s always at the center of our worship – not pushed off to one side and brought out like an ironing board only when it’s needed.
And it is here – at this table – that we are most like family. Young and old, rich and poor, married and single, male and female. Here it is that we are most like brothers and sisters in Christ. And it is because of Christ that we gather at the table. After all, he’s the one who told us we should “do this”.
It’s here that he offers us bread and wine – his body and blood – in one heavenly meal. And on that night so many years ago, when Jesus first gave this supper to the disciples, he knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer. At least, not in the way that they were used to having Jesus around.
Yes, Jesus would soon be gone. He would be crucified. He would die, and be buried. Three days later he would rise from the dead, and forty days after that, he would ascend into heaven. But his followers would still have each other – they would still gather around the table and the meal – and when they did – Jesus said he would be right there with them.
And so he is. Even though we cannot see him – he’s here. And that’s why we gather – this family – we who are brothers and sisters in Christ. We gather for a meal. A little bread. A little wine. And Jesus is right here with us. He is with us just as he is with millions of Christians in thousands of churches all across the world today. Each with its own version of a table. Each with Christ right there in the places where they are together. Remember what Jesus said? “Wherever two or three [or more] are gathered together, there I am right there with them.”
And because what we are doing here tonight is being repeated and celebrated in churches all over the world – it’s as though we are joining our table to theirs. The late Lutheran theologian Richard Jensen once called it the “picnic table effect.” “Come on. Pull your table up next to ours. There is room. There is room.” And we join with other Christians –in every time and every place – around the church’s kitchen table.
Sometimes we come here just to see old friends and meet new ones. To catch up with what’s happening in each others’ lives. It’s like coming home, because we know that there will always be a place for us here at the table – at this table – the kitchen table that is – the place where home is really home.
There is room for everyone here at the table of the Lord. It is a table is for saints and sinners. It is a table of grace – in other words – a table where God gives us his undeserved love and favor.
Let me close with a story told by Tony Campolo in his book, Letters to a Young Evangelical. It’s a story about God’s grace. He says that when he was very young, he was sitting with his parents at a Communion service. He noticed a young woman in the pew in front of them who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading 1 Corinthians 11:27. This verse says this: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Evidently this young woman took Paul’s words to say that somehow she was unworthy to take the bread and the cup.
As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman sitting in front of young Tony and his parents, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that Tony’s father, a first generation Sicilian immigrant, leaned over the young woman’s shoulder and, in broken English, said sternly, “Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?”
The young woman raised her head and nodded and then she took the bread and ate it. Tony Campolo writes, “I knew that at that moment some kind of heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer Communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.”
You know what that tells me? There is room for you here. No matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, and if you’re prone to wander, no matter how long you’ve been away, there is room for you here at the church’s kitchen table – this table of grace. This place where home is really home.
This is a meal that we celebrate every weekend. Call it the church’s family meal. Call it the Lord’s Supper. Call it Holy Communion. Call it Eucharist. But this is the church’s family meal.
I trust that you will be here as often as you can to join your church family in sharing this meal. I know life can be busy. Running here – running there – doing this – doing that. But just like it’s important for us to slow down – important for you and your family to eat suppers together at your home – it’s also important for God’s family to slow down – and to be together. For us to be together – here in this place – to hear God’s Word and to share in His supper.
Jesus is the host – and he sends this invitation to all who will receive it. Come to the banquet. Come to the feast – here in this place – to the family meal. Come to the church’s kitchen table – to the feast that has been spread for you.