Rev. Ralph Emerson of Rising Star Baptist Church asked me to speak at tonight’s Maundy Thursday service; he gave me the topic: Why the Table? To be honest, I struggled with this topic quite a bit. But this is what I came up with to share tonight at Rising Star.
This fall I spoke at Rising Star’s anniversary service, so I did some research going back to this church’s beginnings. September 13, 1931, Reverend Smith Cary and a small number of other folks got together and organized a new church. They acquired a building. It was a restaurant or a bar called “The Greasy Spoon,” which was located at 711 Irma Street. This is right along I-35 one block south of Rosedale.
Pastor Cary and his members cleaned out alcohol and beer bottles and borrowed a few chairs, and they began to worship and serve the Lord there in that place.
What the church’s history doesn’t say is how they got a certain peace of furniture that I want to talk about tonight. So I’m imagining it went something like this.
[thanks to Fred Craddock for this idea, which I am borrowing here]
Down Rosedale Street in September of 1931 comes a wagon, a heavily loaded wagon, drawn by two red white-nosed mules. The wagon stops in the road in front of the general store. The driver gets down from the wagon to ask about finding a certain location in that town.
The owner of the store is interested in the load on this wagon covered by a gray canvas. So he asks the driver, What are you hauling on the wagon?
And the driver said, A church. I’m bringing a church to Irma Street.
You mean you have a church on that wagon?
Yes. I have a church here.
You don’t haul a church on a wagon.
Yeah. I have a church on the wagon.
Do you mind if I look under the canvas to see what you’ve got?
Sure. Come on over.
They untie the ropes and lift the canvas, and the first thing the storeowner sees is a table.
What’s that table have to do with church?
Oh, if you don’t have this table you don’t have church.
Well it just looks like a table to me.
Oh, it’s not just a table.
Some people call it the Lord’s Table.
Some people call it Communion Table.
Some call it the Table of Fellowship.
Some call it the Table of Thanksgiving.
But it’s the center of the church. Because to be a community of faith, you gather around this table.
This is not just any table.
And the man was right. For that table has a history as beautiful and sometimes as painful as any part of the church. And I’m inclined to think the driver of the wagon is right. Without the table, you don’t have a community of faith.
Some time when you have the time—maybe you
sprain your ankle playing basketball or
have the chicken pox or something
and have nothing else to do but read the Bible, check through there and see how often the table is at the center of things. Look through the Gospels and make a note every time it speaks of Jesus being at the table in somebody’s house.
Look at the Hebrew scriptures and see how often the table is at the heart of the story. As my friend Rabbi Micah Greenstein pointed out to me, the home is the center of Jewish life and the table is likened to a “mini altar” of the ancient Temple. From the annual Passover Seder to weekly Sabbath meals, the table is where Jewish rituals take place and where families’ memories for a lifetime are created.
It is Maundy Thursday—
the night of the Last Supper,
the last night of Jesus’ life.
Christians have been observing this moment in holy week for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you look at John 13, you will see this story. And it is in this story, after they share the last supper, that Jesus spoke about his death to that group of twelve gathered in a room in Jerusalem that night. And as he spoke he performed a symbolic act,
taking up the loaf of bread,
breaking it in his hands, and
saying, “This is my body which is broken for you.”
In other words, “I die willingly for your sake, just as I now break this bread for your sake.”
And the cup of wine, which he spoke of as the blood that he would shed for them.
Afterward, he invited the disciples to eat and drink this food. That is, he invites them
to share in his life,
to take his life into themselves,
to live out in their own lives both the suffering and the joy of it.
The apostle Paul summarized this event in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
And for all these centuries since, the Church has been re-enacting this last supper as a symbol of these things– a symbol of his giving his life away for the sake of the world and a symbol of his followers’ participating in this life, this giving.
So, every time we eat and drink from this table, we are all invited to share in Jesus’ life,
to take his life into ourselves, and
to live out in our own lives, both the suffering and the joy of it.
Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book entitled Can You Drink This Cup? And on this night, Holy Thursday, the night of Gethsemane, the day before Good Friday, I can’t help but think of Henri Nouwen’s poignant question that recalls the Last Supper:
Can you drink this cup?
Can you empty it to the dregs?
Can you taste all the sorrows and the joys?
Can you live the abundant life God has for you whatever it will bring?
Can drink this cup? Can you eat this bread?
The man who drove the wagon said, Oh that’s not just any table. Some people call it
the Lord’s table.
Table of Fellowship.
The Table of Thanksgiving.
Has a lot of names, but it’s not any ordinary table. In fact, wherever you have a church, the people of God gather around the table.
Will you come to that banquet table of the people of God, that boisterous table
where a place has been saved,
where you will laugh and love and serve and be
Will you come to that table?
Will you drink this cup? Will you eat this bread?