The OPEN Table By Pastor Tracey Leslie Read: Luke 5:27-32; Acts 27:33-38
The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" -Luke 5:30
In the ancient world, it was important to take care with whom you dined.By eating with someone, you demonstrated your desire to be associated with that person.Meals were often the context for people to forge alliances.And so it is surprising and disturbing to the religious leaders that Jesus so frequently chooses to dine with “sinners and tax collectors.”Why on earth would he choose to associate himself with those kinds of folks?From their perspective, through Jesus’ lack of dining discretion, he shamed himself.But Jesus finds no shame in breaking bread with those whom society would reject.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the night before Jesus is put to death, he celebrates a meal with his disciples.It is the meal the Church continues to celebrate today.Some call it communion; some call it the Lord’s Supper; some call it the Eucharist.It is a meal intended to unite Jesus’ followers to him and to one another.Yet it is often a source of division among his followers.Some believe it is a meal reserved for church members.Others say only the baptized may commune.Some believe that the bread and wine literally become Jesus’ body and blood.Others believe they only represent Jesus’ body and blood.And so, debates rage:exactly who is the table open to?Who is welcome to attend this very special meal?
Sometimes, in our debate over Holy Communion, we forget all of the other meals Jesus ate with his disciples.Although his final meal with the disciples was shrouded in the sorrow of his impending death, many of the gospel meal stories are distinguished by joy, abundance and inclusivity.Likewise, the early Christians loved to eat together.Acts tells us “they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”[i]
One of the most curious bible meal stories is found near the end of the Book of Acts.The apostle Paul has been arrested and taken into custody.He is being transported by ship to the city of Rome where he will stand before the Emperor.On the journey, they encounter a horrible storm at sea; a storm that rages on for days.Those on the ship are sailors, soldiers, and fellow prisoners.They are so overcome with fear, they have stopped eating.Fourteen days in, an angel appears to Paul in the night to tell him that neither he nor any on the ship will perish.All their lives will be spared.Paul communicates this good news to them and informs them that they need to eat and take nourishment.We have no indication that any of them are disciples of Jesus and so it is surprising, one might even say astonishing, that Paul acts as host for their meal.Our bible writer tells us:“he took bread: and giving thanks to God in the presence of all; he broke it and began to eat.”And those on the boat also began to eat.But, did you notice those very special words Paul said?Like Jesus on that night with his disciples in the upper room, our narrator says Paul took the bread, gave thanks and broke it.It almost sounds as if Paul is celebrating Holy Communion with a bunch of heathens on a ship.How peculiar, how welcoming; how open is God’s table? [i] See Acts 2:46
Questions to reflect upon this week: -When guests come over for dinner, what are some things you do to express your welcome to them? -Have you ever sat down to eat and fellowship with a stranger, someone in need, or someone who was lonely? -In the early Church, "holy communion" was celebrated within the context of a communal meal. Is it important for church folks to eat meals together? Why or why not? What is the benefit in sharing in a meal with one another?
Prayer:God, your table of grace is open to all and yet, too often, I seek fellowship with those who are like me, familiar and comfortable.Open my heart, O God, to feed those who are hungry… hungry for mercy, hungry for bread, hungry for fellowship.All this I ask in Jesus’ name.Amen.