- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: God & Us Gathering Around the Table
Thanksgiving! The leaves are changing. The air is growing colder and crisper. The sun sets earlier. It seems like we are finally saying goodbye to our summer. It is a difficult goodbye. Yet it is also a moment to celebrate. In an earlier, more agriculture-centred age, this was the time to offer thanks to God for all the gifts of the earth. We may not be so centred now, but we continue to rely on those who produce our food. Thus, we thank them for their efforts. We continue to thank God for nurturing the soil which produces the harvest.
At the centre of Thanksgiving is a meal. We dine with family and friends. We express our gratitude to God and to others in a gathering around the table. Many of our human celebrations centre on a meal. Dining seems to be a common gathering point for us as human beings. From birthdays to Christmas to a simple visit of friends, our human tendency seems to be to gather for a meal. Around the table we become relaxed, we come to know one another better. Foods are part of our culture and to share our food with others is to share something of ourselves with others. Perhaps that is why in formal and informal gatherings there is invariably a meal in which the participants sit down at the same table.
The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah uses the image of a rich and abundant banquet to describe the fullness of God’s goodness poured out for all the peoples of the earth (Isaiah 25:6-10). Looking to the age of the messiah, the prophet uses a meal, shared by all peoples, as the great sign and symbol that the messiah has come. The reign of God is among us, and all creation is blessed by the presence of God.
Matthew’s Gospel uses the same image for the same reign of God, with twist. He shares one of Jesus’ stories, a parable of the Kingdom about a wedding feast, another banquet (Matt.22:1-10). The parable focuses on the invitation to a meal. The key here is that when the first invited guests refused the invitation, the doors of the banquet were thrown wide open. Servants were sent “into the streets and gathered all whom they found.” Both Isaiah and Matthew proclaim the fullness of God’s goodness for all creation. The table is large and the table is full.
This image is repeated, with the same message every time we gather around our Table for Eucharist. Theologian Eugene LaVerdiere focuses on the Eucharist as it is presented in the Gospel of Luke. The title of his book is Dining in the Kingdom of God. We may seldom think in this way, but that is in fact what we do when we gather around our Eucharistic table. We dine in the Kingdom of God. And we dine with a meal of thanksgiving.
Eucharist, literally, means thanksgiving. Whether it is around this Table of Eucharist or at the tables at which we gather with family and friends, we proclaim our gratitude – to God and to one another for the presence of goodness with which we are blessed in God and in one another. St. Paul, writing to the Philippians gives us a wonderful prayer to acknowledge both God and one another in this way – seeing both our lacks and our gifts. (Phil.4:12-14, 19-20).
Even now, in the midst of a pandemic, our Eucharist remains a celebration of God’s goodness and the openness of God’s reign to all. We may find ourselves with some limits in how we gather around The Table, but The Table must still be a celebration of God’s openness to all peoples. Somehow, with all our current limitations, we must express a welcome to all, for we are “dining in the Kingdom of God.”