There has been a lot of activity around tables recently!
Last night more than 30 of us took part in the progressive supper and went from house to house, eating together. For the last 5 weeks my sister has been here, and we are such foodies, so there has been a lot of eating there. And in this morning’s gospel reading Jesus is, once again, eating with friends and pharisees, and we have two conversations about table etiquette.
When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not sit in the place of honour…but go and sit at the lowest place.
And, when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or family but invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.
So, all week I have been thinking about food and tables; about who we invite and where we sit, and what Jesus was getting at in his two instructions there, because I found them almost contradictable, or confusing.
And then, on Thursday, just before my sister flew home, we did what all family members do on their trips and we went and got tattoos. (You all do that, right?!). And I had 3 words indelibly inked on my wrist and they say this: Judas Ate Too.
And that brought some clarity, somehow. Because how can we talk about food and tables without once again returning to the true food and the holiest of tables, found here in our holy meal?
You see, Jesus gives these instructions about wedding banquets and luncheons and dinners – don’t take the place of honour, don’t invite this person or that, make sure these people come – and yet, in the perfect meal he left for us to share together, in remembrance of him, there is no place of honour or dishonour; there is no one who is distinguished and there is no disgrace. There is no high place and low place. There is nobody who is left off the invite list and there is no payment, or repayment. There is only grace.
If Jesus, in that first eucharist, on the night before he died, knew what was about to happen; if he knew by whom he was about to be betrayed and yet Judas Ate Too, then the table, the doors, the welcome, is well and truly open to all.
And while there might be table etiquette elsewhere, while there might be right ways and wrong ways to do things at wedding banquets and luncheons, the meal and table we are concerned with is this one, here… [indicate altar]
And here, there is no place of honour and dishonour – except that everyone is honoured.
There is no invite list, with some names on and some excluded – except that everyone is invited.
There is nobody who is worthy or unworthy of gathering around this table – except that we all unworthy and yet made utterly worthy.
There is nobody who is poor and crippled and lame and blind – except that we all arrive that way but leave rich and healed and whole.
There is nobody who is left out, because, in our Lord’s example, Judas ate too.
Many of you know that before I came to Australia, I led a church that ran a very busy feeding programme for street sleepers and addicts and those who couldn’t afford food or wanted some company. Each week we had 200 or more people come in, from every walk of life. Definitely the poor and crippled were counted among them. Some people would get incensed about the work we did – why are you giving food to them or that person? They will take it and sell it for drugs! Or, they have a big house and enough money to feed themselves! But in our soup kitchen we operated an open table policy – like we do in our masses – all are welcome, all you need to do is show up. All you must do is come hungry, and we will feed you…because that shows something about the radical hospitality of Jesus and that is what we are trying to emulate. Outrageous grace.
At the end of our sessions each week we, for a long while, ended with a mass. All manner of people came. Some had no idea how to ‘behave’, or what was going on. One guy walked right up to the altar, head bowed, hands out, desperate to receive, before I even finished consecrating. Another woman took her mass and danced out of church, swirling, arms waving, singing about butterflies and beauty. If there was ever a rule book of eucharistic etiquette, they had not read it and I longed to be as desperate as that guy for the body of Christ. And I long to be as enamoured with our Lord that it makes me dance and swirl and see butterflies. It’s not the ‘done thing’ but who cares. Jesus is clear – make sure those who are usually excluded get to come. And make sure they know it FIRST.
Jesus doesn’t care where we come from or how we get here, only that we come.
He doesn’t care if we are super important or think nothing of ourselves, only that we come.
He doesn’t mind what we have done or who we have been. Whatever state we turn up in is good enough. Just come.
And around this table there is no place of importance and honour; there is no high place or low place. We approach this meal as equals, together, in communion, all of us; those who are almost as holy as Jesus and those who despise themselves as much as Judas. All of us are welcome. Because, in that welcome, in this meal, dishonour is banished, disgrace is gone, the poor are made rich, the crippled stand upright, the lame walk and the blind can see again, and we, we get to glimpse the Kingdom of Heaven, right here. Amen