Sitting Down with Jesus
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
In today's text, Paul recounts the story of the Last Supper in a letter to the church in Corinth. Liturgically, we celebrate the "anniversary" of the first communion on Maundy Thursday.
As reformed Christians, we affirm that during communion God is really, truly, present at the table though the Holy Spirit. We are not just acting out the motions; it is not a memorial act. We are literally sharing a meal with God.
We're big on "joyful feast" theology at NorthPark, and that bothers some folks because to them communion just feels too serious and solemn to smile. And today, that's an appropriate interpretation. Today we not only feast with God, but we remember one very serious discussion that once took place around the dinner table.
From different stories in the Bible, we learn that Jesus was really into eating. Jesus was not one of those "food is just fuel for the body" people. It was an important part of his ministry, an activity to be shared with others, and that got him into trouble a lot.
In Jesus' day sharing food was an intimate experience. It required a lot of trust that your companions weren't going to poison you or stab you while your guard was down. Meals were lengthy and required time to prepare for both guests and hosts. The act of hosting someone for a meal was almost a sacrament unto itself, not to mention expensive. On top of it all was the idea that you could be made "unclean" not only by the food you ate, but also by the company you kept while eating, so gracing someone with your presence for a meal was sort of an honor, especially if you were important.
This is why it was so jarring that Jesus was willing to eat with the poor, with tax collectors, with women, and today we're reminded that he shared a table with people who wanted him imprisoned.
And although scripture reminds us that this radical hospitality is extended to us, the children of God, sometimes it's hard to pull up a seat at the table.
Sometimes we're angry at Jesus. Sometimes it's hard to trust anything good, and we wonder what the catch is. Sometimes our relationship is strained for whatever reason, and though we know deep down that it's supposed to be a healing action, our heads and hearts aren't communicating.
We should acknowledge that – especially when others are the ones who aren't ready to "come to the feast." We should acknowledge that while our host is always 100% ready to welcome, for many the invitation is daunting and it does us no good to judge those who are unwilling or unable to join in.
So today I challenge you to extend some of Christ's radical hospitality to another – maybe a friend, maybe a foe, or maybe someone who is struggling. And if you are the one who feels tentative about "sitting down with Jesus," remember you are not alone. Remember that no matter how you feel, you are in fact welcomed, adored and appreciated.
Jesus, our Christ, our messiah, the one who came to save us, forgive us when we are too nervous to join you in the feast you prepared. Help us to welcome others and to show those we encounter the love you first showed us. Help us to live into your radical hospitality, not just during Holy Week, but every day of the year. Amen.
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University and her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.