In the tradition of the church I attend, the priest stands behind the altar and says, “This table doesn’t belong to our church or our denomination. All baptized Christians are welcome.”
I live in Athens, Georgia. Politically, we are a red city surrounded by a sea of blue. And while my family lives in the city limits, most of our church members come from the surrounding suburbs. You can probably guess correctly the political divide that resides within our church.
Our small city is a university town that brings in professors from all over the world. We boast a thriving music scene that encourages artists to make Athens home. And then there are native Athenians whose parents and grandparents have always called Athens home.
Our city has a large African American community whose elders can tell stories of when they would get in trouble, were threatened with violence, or arrested for daring to enter white areas.
Most public school children in Athens are on free and reduced lunch, yet those same kids ride the bus past million-dollar mansions to go to school.
The Hope of Christ
So when our priest says, “This table is for all,” to a congregation that is a patchwork of identities that the world says is divided, it is the invitation of the hope of Christ. This altar, this plain wooden table, and simple meal of bread and wine, is a thin place where the hope of God’s kingdom begins to break through.
Believing that we should unite at the table is not ignoring those differences but rather looking at a human and seeing them as an image bearer rather than a collection of ideas.
My husband is wrong about a lot of things. I am teasing!… well just a little…I do have to constantly explain to him why my opinion on art, clothes, music, etc., is superior. (His most egregiously wrong opinion is that spice does not improve food. That man would go without salt if I allowed it!)
Being united by Christ doesn’t stop me from educating him on the importance of spicy food. But to see him as an image bearer of God is to put my contempt and superiority aside out of love for Christ.
I realize that my husband’s culinary habits are not as severe an issue as whether or not someone should have civil liberties. Nor are they as egregious as the very real harmful ideas and thoughts that have led to violence against people. I also realize when we allow ourselves to categorize those with differing opinions as “other” and begin to foster contempt for them, we are closing the door on those who belong in the family of God.
The Allure of Contempt
In Jay Y. Kim’s book, Analog Christian, he writes about how we attack people’s ideas, creating enemies. Kim writes, “This is why contempt is so alluring. It helps us to identify and entrench ourselves in a specific tribe of our choosing then, with support from the tribe, it allows us to prop up our fragile and insecure selves on wobbly stilts of self-proclaimed right and wrong, good and evil, us and them” (pg. 55). The mocking of my husband’s taste in food is a perfect example of how contempt allows us to take a superior view of those with whom we disagree.
When I come to the plain wooden table at church, God pushes away that contempt. As I recite the familiar words of confession, the Holy Spirit draws me in, reminding me that I have held – and even hold – ideas that are unloving and unjust. And the Holy Spirit invites me to love my neighbor more. And as I take the body and blood shoulder to shoulder with those to whom I might be tempted to feel superior, the Holy Spirit reminds me that God’s table is big enough for all of his diverse family, even for those who think food is better without salt.
But if the table ended with a kumbaya moment, it would only be a radical symbol of hope instead of a thin place where the hope of the kingdom breaks through into the divisiveness of the world.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Christ is our peace. It is he who reconciles us to one another.
Love One Another
After washing the disciple’s feet, Jesus tells the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34). Loving one another wasn’t easier 2000 years ago. While the disciples didn’t have social media to advertise their political opinions, we know from writings about the early church how divided this group was. Loving one another wasn’t easy, just as it isn’t easy today.
As a woman, I bear the scars of when others share their opinion of my role in ministry too freely. I know my brothers and sisters of color and those in the LGBTQIA community have more profound wounds than mine. The call to love one another has been misunderstood to mean forgetting the hurtful comments that others make—and, in some cases, malicious actions. But love is not forgetting but instead choosing to allow Christ to be the one to reconcile us.
When we allow Christ to reconcile us, his job is to bring about both the justice we seek and the peace we need. But as he tears down the wall of hostility, we come together, experiencing the oneness only Christ can provide.
As the priest places the bread in my hands and I dip it into the chalice of wine, I’m reminded that no matter how divided the world becomes, this table is big enough for all to come.
Photo by Jainath Pannala on UnSplash