Open Table

My all-time favorite dining experience takes place in downtown Bangor. That’s right, downtown Bangor. It’s been a while since I went there so I am not sure if the business is still in operation but the Friar’s Bakehouse is a small café tucked into the downtown core of Bangor. Amidst a lot of boarded up store fronts is this welcoming, inexpensive, tasty, establishment where you can eat your lunch amidst college students, bankers, low-income seniors and government employees. The Friars greet you with warm hospitality and the smell of the food is out of this world. As you order you see the Friars dressed in their traditional garb, the thin but deep books all around the dining areas (authors like Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, Francis of Assisi, etc…), and the tables bunched together so no customer can sit without engaging the others in the café.

When I think about symbols for the church Jesus envisioned there seems no better image than an open, welcoming table full of wine and bread. In the early church the gathered believers would meet in local homes and share in the sacred meal of Jesus, Communion, but do so in the context of a full and abundant feast. In other words the connection was clear, to be in Jesus’ Mission one shared in a meal with the community. And the table was open. In fact the only instructions on who comes to the table seems to be a directive to reconcile with your neighbour (Matthew 5:23). And after the community shares this sacred meal with Jesus what story does Jesus tell? Jesus warns the believers not to ask “who is greatest” among you but rather to focus on serving one another. Table manners are not figuring out who doesn’t belong, they are offering a welcome in the spirit of genuine service.

I am presiding at a wedding today for two persons who offer this kind of hospitality. One of them cites a passion for craft beer and family and the other names environmental concerns and craft beer as that which “gets them up in the morning.” I asked them this question, what are your passions in life, because all too often we overlook this “search for meaning” in our daily effort to just stay ahead of the next demand on our time. But allowing the daily demands to swallow you up forfeits us the opportunity to make our lives about bigger things, things that will really matter when we have the chance to look back and see who and what we were.

As a Christian Minister my life is about this open table Jesus offers, a mission to include others in an abundant feast. But I would be a fool if I did not admit at the outset that the Church as an institution has not done exactly the opposite of what our founder demanded, that is spend our time thinking about who doesn’t get to the table. A movement built around inclusion (see stories about the Good Samaritan, the Woman at the Well and the Ethiopian eunuch) has as its focus an open table, but the Church as an institution has often countered with an image of a closed table with a long list of who is not invited and where the favoured ones sit.

My prayer for this couple whom will marry this day is that they practice an open table in their home, in their offering of craft beer, in their passion for environmental justice (so everyone can be at the table) and in openness to a family not just of relations with the same name but a family that includes many names, many races, many religions, many orientations, and demographics you might not typically meet in the reality of your life. We live in a world where we more and more only associate with people we know, who think like us, vote like us, socialize like us. Imagine an open table where everyone is here, where everyone matters, and where everyone helps build community. That imagination is what Jesus lived for, what he died trying to accomplish and what can make our lives so full and rich that when we come to the end of our lives we can look back with satisfaction and joy. That is the blessing I wish for them and for us. Amen.