In reading about people being profiled in our newspapers they’re often asked to name the five people they’d like to have dinner with. I’m always interested in who people want to share a table with. Think about it yourself – who would you most like to share a meal with?
There’s a Middle Eastern proverb that Jesus may have known that goes
“I saw them eating and I knew who they were.”
It might not make as much sense in our own age of fast food, microwave dinners and family meals at the tv., but in Jesus’ day what you ate and whom you ate it with were critical matters. This was especially true among the Jesus’ own people, the Jews, for whom eating together was -- literally -- a religious experience. To eat together was to celebrate their faith, which included very specific rules about what happened around the table. Cleanliness was paramount: clean food, clean dishes, clean hands, clean hearts. A proper Jewish meal was a worship service in which believers honoured God by sanctifying the most ordinary details of their lives.
Many of us have probably been told from time to time to watch our table manners – that might have included using a knife and fork properly, not speaking with our mouth full, remembering to say thankyou to the one who had prepared the meal, ensuring that the guests at our table were always served first and that the FHB rule, Family Hold Back, was observed and so on.
On this feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus when we celebrate the first communion of these children we need to remember the table manner of Jesus. Much of his ministry took place over meals at table and so much of the vision of the reign of God is symbolised in the banquet of lthe kingdom.
Jesus disrupted the hierarchy of the guest list and the seating chart by establishing a new set of table manners. He called the last to be first and the first to be last, presenting some new table manners for both guests and hosts.
When you’re invited to a banquet, don’t sit at the place of honor, but sit at the most lowly place. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he tells the hosts not even to worry about inviting their friends and family, but instead to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. In Jesus world, these were very people who were excluded from the table. Being at table with Jesus is an invitation to jsee things differently.
For Jesus, meals were times of celebration and expressions of radical, inclusive communion. On that Thursday, at that meal we now call the Last Supper, Jesus sat at table with his closest friends, and hosted a meal at which he commanded them to take bread and wine and to do this in memory of him. And at that table, Jesus took the lowliest place – the place of humble service to those he loved and the place that would ultimately lead to his death. It was at that table that he washed their feet.
Being at table with Jesus is a call to serve.
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them," the religious authorities grumbled, and everything that followed was Jesus’ reply to them. Jesus seemed to understand the man with two sons, who couldn’t get his family to sit down at the same table either. Being at table with Jesus is an opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation.
At the end of a long day when thousands had gathered "like sheep without a shepherd" to be taught by Jesus, the disciples wanted to send them away to the nearby towns and villages where they could get something to eat. The response of Jesus was "you give them something to eat yourselves." In this great miracle that we see the hunger of the crowds satisfied.
Being at table with Jesus is an invitation to work for social justice.
Jesus recognised that no-one would eat with the tax collector Zaccheus so he invited himself to his table.
Being at table with Jesus challenges prejudice and builds authentic community.
He sat at the table with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in their despondency and loss and in the breaking of the bread they recognised him.
Being at table with Jesus brings hope for mission.
In our celebration of each Mass, this food for the journey we know as the Eucharist, more than something we receive and reverence, but that which we enter into and become transformed into, so that it is us who might be consumed by the Eucharist to become the body of Christ – it is as St Augustine says, “your own mystery that you celebrate” enabling us to say “amen to what we are.”
Today when we hold out our hands to accept the broken bread, we dare to take hold of a body that was broken in death and raised for freedom and justice. When we drink from the cup, we pledge ourselves to communion, to solidarity, especially with the powerless, the sinners for whom Jesus drained the cup of suffering. This feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is to focus our attention on what we can easily forget or dismiss. This liturgical and sacramental memory is not a nostalgic or romantic recall of the past, but a present reality that asks us in Jesus’ name to remember and receive the Christ who is now present to his Church. Through our communion in the cup of blessing and the broken bread we not only become one with Christ, we become one with each other and are called to become nourishment for all, living bread for others in their vulnerable wildernesses, ready to be broken and given for the life of the world.