In the gospel story the Last Supper is the calm before the storm.
If we were filming it as block-buster movie, the Last Supper is where we transition from the wide-screen shots to a narrow focus – from fast cut action sequences of arguing with Pharisees to slower calmer exchanges with the devoted and the trusted.
There is a narrowing, a focusing, that happens at this point in the story. It gets tighter, it gets smaller, it gets quieter, it gets more focused. Everything draws in – the story takes a breath.
The Last Supper is a constricting – it narrows. Its purpose in the story to condense and compress.
They had been wondering all over the country side – but now they are all gathered in Jerusalem … and from there they get compressed into this one room. So much is packed into this meal.
The story has pressed them around the table and all of this energy and heat and confusion and frustration is compressed into a conversation during a special meal.
The meal is the calm before the storm – a moment of pause before the explosion.
If we think about this like a gas engine, compression forces the gas in the cylinder to be so intense that combustion is powerful. Condense, compress and get ready for combustion.
The Last Supper presses all the characters around this table and makes the situation flammable. Compression leads to combustion.
Meals are like this. Eating with someone is an intense act. It is life condensed in a moment. Being at table with someone is to have life press you together.
When we come to a table we bring with us all the energy of our experience. We bring our story, our history, our family patterns, our expectations, our hurts, our dysfunction, our hopes and fears.
We bring all of these things to the table and they are pressed together. They are condensed into a moment together. This phenomenon is intensified all the more because we believe that Christ’s spirit is present in the world and and work among us. This greatly compounds the pressure that drives us to the table.
Gathering around a table is powerful because our lives are pressed together and all of these unrelated and disconnected areas of our lives are condescend into this little room and our stories and opinions are compressed into this moment.
We all have to eat to say alive. When life presses us around a table together there is a weight to that. We are under a pressure to engage those around the table. This is why inviting someone over for dinner is a big deal.
We are a part of a tradition has taken this special meal and called it “Eucharist” and it is not at a table and it is part of a worship service. Which is fine. I get that.
But we also need to remember that eating at a table with someone IS to be in communion with them. It is communion.
Jesus not only invites us to a table – he pushes us to eat with those who are not like us.
When we eat together, Jesus is present. We communion with Jesus with others.
God’s spirit is present in the world and work among us – this means that meals are never simply meals and that sharing a meal with someone always has the potential of becoming something else.
Let’s come to the table together. Bring our stories and expectations, our hopes and our fears and be pressed together in Christ’s presence.
(this is part of a Maundy Thursday talk to be given at a church dinner)
April 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm
Wow…I love this. Thanks again for reminding me that necessary experiences that sometimes get shoved into the mundane category can (should) be a holy part of my life on this planet.