Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Come to the Table

Let's hear it for tables! I have been intrigued by the idea that the table should be the symbol for the Christian church instead of the cross. After all, if you were to bring the cross symbol up to date, why not show a gurney, or rifle, or electric chair, or gallows, or.... Would not a table be more relational, conversational, collegial, friendly, family centered?

Consider the Lord's Supper. We speak of coming to the "Table of the Lord". The altar is a "table" upon which the communion elements are placed, the liturgical book is opened, the sacramental candles shine. Communion, forgiveness of sins, community. Top that! And ALL are welcome! How's that for new concept? Eating and drinking together are church staples. Who would deny the tastiness of a pot luck? There are receptions for funerals, weddings, anniversaries, and groups. Then there is the work of the secretaries, financial stewards, teachers, students young and old, volunteers, and pastors. Remove the tables and life would be less, church would be less.

And there is more. Let's look at table as metaphor. Table is about "we". Remember during the Vietnam War when peace talks were trying to get underway? There was considerable discussion about the shape of the table. Eventually the table shape was decided to everyone's satisfaction, and eventually a peace deal was signed. How about the United Nations? Yes, I know, talk but no action. Too often true. Yet we cannot forget the successful work to stop the genocide in Bosnia, nor the humanitarian work throughout the world, nor the peacekeeping efforts in many countries, nor the always possible action by the member countries, nor that it is the one place in the world where all countries can dialogue, peacefully. There is a common table for all. There is always hope when people gather to talk. Talking is always preferable to shooting.

In the recent CHRISTIAN CENTURY, Miroslav Volf wrote an article entitled "Body Counts". He reviewed some of history's bloody Christian-caused history. You know, "In the name of Jesus Christ we go to war to save civilization". He writes: "...the scale of violence committed by Christians throughout history is mind-numbing". True. My response is that the message of Jesus Christ was prostituted, betrayed by a brew of ego, nationalism, and ideology. Don't blame Jesus for our actions.

But there is more. Volf tells the story of Ottoman armies led by sultan Mehmed II in 1453, brutally sacking Constantinople, the center of Eastern Christendom. Rome was next. The Europeans and the Western church had a choice: organize a crusade or engage in a dialogue. Pope Pius II pressed for the first option, and cardinal Nicolas of Cusa, the pope's friend and a Cardinal, pressed for the dialogue option. Why did Nicolas choose dialogue? According to Volf, Nicolas had a friend, John of Segovia, who knew Islam and Muslims. John said "...war could never solve the issue between Christendom and Islam". Nicolas' view won the day. Volf concludes: "What explains Western ascendency over the past six centuries is not the power of guns, but the power of ideas forged in vigorous dialogue". Table talk.

I dare say that families are held together more by what happens around the supper table and the Lord's Table than any other place. It is there that conversation happens and relationships are nurtured. Indeed, in our fast-paced world, eating and drinking together around a table is the best time for respite and reconciliation. I think of the times Linda and I have sat at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, the family gatherings at home, and the tables at church, to realize the power of table talk.

I suggest we sit and drink a latte' while munching a salad! And talk. Cry. Laugh. I think we'd have a better, more peaceful world. Come to the table.