Extending the Table

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A fantastic blog post on April 30th by Vicky Risacher jumpstarted my thoughts around what it means to “come to the table” in terms of faith. Ms. Risacher’s story perfectly encapsulates the unexpected places and people who bring us hospitality in much the same way our Christ did.

The most obvious metaphor of a table we have in our faith is our sacrament of communion. Much could be said here about the different ways that different faith groups within Chrisitianity celebrate communion, or about the tradition-breaking ways in which Christ changed the Seder, or about transubstantiation. Ok, maybe not transubstantiation, but you get the point.

I have just begun the process of ordination in the United Methodist Church as a candidate for deacon. Though not charged with administering the sacraments, deacons are authorized in the Methodist church to assist in their administration. Now, that can sound pretty second class on first glance. My mentor, however, forced me to think of it in an incredibly empowering way when last we met: We should always be asking the question, “Who’s not at the Table?”

By extending the Table into the rest of the world, deacons are called to bring God into every messy, dark, powerless, and rejected place we can find. In fact, I would venture to say that it is in those places that we find the most need for the Table. If we think of the Eucharist as something that doesn’t just happen at the moment we take the bread and the cup, what does that require us to do in the world? And even if we do think of the Eucharist as that moment during our worship when we queue up and take the Elements, what do those people look like? Do they all look like each other? Are they the people who need God the most? And if they aren’t, why have they not found their way into the place in our communities that are supposed to be the most welcoming imaginable?

I sit front and center at my church every Sunday. I was hesitant to sit there the first few times my wife and I did so, but she plays music at our church and I wanted to sit next to her during the rest of the service. So, when we take communion, I’m always one of the first couple of people in the congregation to do so. I pray at the rail in front and then I sit down. Over the years, then, the most rewarding part of my communion experience has been watching everyone else in the church pass by and take communion. Right there. A few feet in front of me. Every single person. “The body of Christ broken for you.” “The blood of Christ shed for you.”

I can silently judge people all I want. I can inflate my own ridiculous ego. When each and every human being comes to the Table, he or she is exactly as loved, forgiven, and washed as I am. That completely reshapes me every week.

As our Christ reached across lots of culturally divisive lines (and angered the religious authorities in the process) so must we. Who is not at the Table, Church? Why aren’t we letting them eat and drink?

Kenneth J. Pruitt is a teacher by trade, and the Director of Volunteer Management at Kingdom House, an IVC partner agency focused on social services and founded during the settlement house movement. He is proud of St. Louis, his adopted home. His wife is far more attractive and intelligent than he. He loves what you’ve done with your hair.

5 Responses to “Extending the Table”

  1. jean sweeney

    “Who is not at the table? ” in all the messy places I encounter today will live with me, indeed, transform me today. What a great group: IVC and partner agency folk. thanks.

    • Domenica Moroney

      For me, too, watching humanity approach and depart from the Table at Communion time are some of the most sacred minutes of the week. It reminds me that I am one of many who trust in the Lord and trust also that His presence–in some unfathomable way–will enliven the days ahead.

  2. Mary Frances Moriarty

    This comment from Brother Ken is profound. Truly, it “makes one to think furiously.” As a Eucharistic Minister I am so touched by the faces of those who come up to receive their Lord, in a manner we really can’t comprehend, that can hardly bear to look at them — it seems I am intruding on a sacred moment. They are all bringing their worries, their burdens, their trust, their love to the altar. May God bless us all!

  3. Kurt Boemler

    I find it interesting that while you raise the important question of who is not at the table, that many tribes within Christianity rarely ask the question of who is not serving at the table.

    If we want to be like Jesus and break down the barriers between who is welcome to eat with him, why is it that we create boundaries of who can administer the Eucharist?

    Jesus used the table to blow through power structures and render privilege as nothing. Why then do we only allow only the right kind of clergy have the authority to invite people to Jesus in the most intimate of ways?

  4. Lauren

    This is great. The biggest challenge for me is to extend the table to those I feel are intolerant or oppressive. My own judgemental attitude is most evident when I feel I am in the right, defending the poor or whomever (and most likely not defending very well or at all), but I don’t show mercy towards the racist person or the rich person, forgetting that I am both of those things. Hard lesson to learn for me, but this is the only hope for any of us–if Christ’s mercy truly extends to all.


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