A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the show Blue Bloods. Now I may be 6 years behind in discovering this show, but better late than never. In so many ways this a classic New York City cop show staring Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg (who I remember from New Kids on the Block) that has very little about it that makes it stand out from the other cop/crime dramas on TV, save for one thing: Sunday dinner
. Each episode the entire family gathers for Sunday dinner
. While their careers intersect and they may be at odds with each other for one reason or another, every week without fail the Reagan family gathers together at the table. It’s the most important part of every episode.
The table. So much happens at the table. When I was growing up every day finished at the table. If family dinner lasted less than an hour it was a rarity. Even as my sister and I got older, and we became more involved in our various activities, we still gathered at the table every night and especially every Sunday after church. We were just ordinary people doing an ordinary thing, yet somehow it became holy.
Part of my heritage is Polish so each Christmas Eve we celebrate Wigilia. While not exactly scripted, it is very structured. We begin with a traditional Polish prayer that the family has been using for over 50 years. Same foods: pierogi, white fish, mushroom soup, potato soup, a green vegetable, and bread. But in between the prayer and food we break opatki with one another. It’s the consistency of a Catholic communion wafer. We approach each other one at a time, break off a piece of each other’s opatki and then gift that other person with words about the impact they’ve had on our life the previous year. By the end we are all a hot mess of tears and laughter. The hardest years are the ones where someone is missing for the first time. The table just doesn’t feel complete.
Gathering at the table. We gather together with family. We gather together with friends. We gather together with strangers. Such an ordinary, everyday, almost mundane act, yet in the midst of it there is an imprint of the holy. And life is changed forever.
On a basic level what happens at the table is that we eat and receive sustenance for life. But gathering and being present at the table has a much deeper and more spiritual meaning than that. At the table we enter into relationship with one another. At the table there is modeling of behavior, of manners, of how to be fully present with a person. At the table we bear witness to one another’s joy, pain, celebrations, and grief. At the table we bear witness to another person’s value, worth and life. At the table we have conversation, we have fights, we debate, we fellowship. At the table we allow others to see our authentic selves. There is laughter and tears. At the table, without even realizing it, we experience the presence of God and walk away changed.
For three years the disciples walked and followed Jesus. Some fishermen-unschooled ordinary men. Others had been looking for the man who would be the Messiah and had found Him. This was the rabbi, the teacher they had been looking for. In the Jewish tradition, the men chose a rabbi under which to study and learn the law. They were to follow so closely to the teaching that they became covered in the dust of the rabbi. The disciples had walked alongside, behind Jesus every step of the way. They were covered in Jesus’ dust, filthy, whole-hearted followers of Jesus’ teachings.
In three years they had gathered at the table hundreds of times. Breaking bread together, sharing life with one another. Today when we gather at the table it’s often seen as hospitality. When my friends would come over, my parents would feed them and we would sit together at the table. A friendly and generous reception of friends, guests, or visitors. But in that day, having a meal together, breaking bread together was so much more. It was a covenant between two people. It was a binding agreement between two or more parties as a gracious means of being in relationship with one another. Both were invested in an established relational bond and unwavering commitment. That’s what was happening when they gathered at the table.
This time, as the disciples and Jesus gathered at the table, it was for the Passover meal. A meal to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. So they ate roasted lamb and baked unleavened bread.
Passover has a script. Each aspect of the meal was to remember the covenant that God made with the Israelites that night as they fled Egypt. It was at the table that they remembered. But this Passover. This Passover, Jesus went off script. Jesus broke bread anyway. Yet, this time the words Jesus said didn’t fit the old covenant. They were no longer remembering their deliverance from Egypt. Jesus asked them to remember Him. Out of Jesus going off script comes a new covenant with Jesus. A new reason to gather at the table.
As if that wasn’t enough to throw the disciples off balance, Jesus says that someone is going to betray Him and that Peter is going to deny Him.
This year, for the first time I noticed the word used to describe how Peter responds to Jesus. Vehemently. Peter forcefully, with such emotion that no one could doubt how he felt, told Jesus, “I’m not going to deny you. I’ve followed you for three years. I’m the guy you said you will build your church upon. I’m the guy who knew you were the Messiah! I walked on water! I may put my foot in my mouth but I’ve followed you! Can’t you see that I’m covered in your dust? I’ll never deny knowing you. I’ll never deny that I’m one of your followers!”
Jesus knew. Jesus knew what was coming His way in just a few short hours. And this is where grace abounds: Jesus gathered at the table anyway. Jesus broke bread with them anyway knowing that in mere hours one would betray Him and another would deny Him.
It’s always been Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. It’s always been someone else who would so easily turn on Jesus. I’m struck by how their story seems to be my story. Jesus shows me the same grace every time I choose to follow him. Jesus knows that, just like with those He broke bread with at the table, I’ll betray him and choose to go my own way.
Even in the midst of our denial, our betrayal, our brokenness Jesus meets us at the table. Especially on this night.
He knows that our voices will be among the crowd crying “Crucify him!” tomorrow
. But he meets us there anyway.
On Sunday I watched our youth gather in small groups at the table. It was messy. Awkward. Yet so unbelievably holy. Jesus was there. Jesus is here. Jesus knows that even though we come to the table followers of Jesus covered in His dust-we will deny. We will betray. Yet he meets me at the table. That’s grace.