It’s an old saw that I heard too many times during the money-mad eighties when a new candidate was being evaluated for a position at the firm where I worked:
What does she/he bring to the table?
As if the back-stabbing corporate life of those days could even approach the fellowship you would find at a family reunion picnic, or a church potluck … or even around that wooden table carved with “This Do In Remembrance Of Me.”
Hmmm. What do I bring to that table?
Do I bring my grief at His sacrifice? The joy of His resurrection? The emptiness of my own unworthiness? The sense of meaning that life would otherwise lack?
I wrote a short story years ago (now lost, except to my memory) about one of those Sunday mornings at the table when everything went wrong. Of course it was a morning when someone special was visiting: the wayward son of a beloved member. He was a raffish, hippie-looking fellow with a red-haired Afro who looked on with growing concern as prayers were mumbled, plates met mid-pew, a tray went crashing to the floor with cups spilling and clinking and breaking. During the collection, a screaming child failed to part with a dime. After worship, he dropped in on the serving gents who were gathered to supervise the counting of the collected offering. They mopped brows and joked; all were relieved it was over with and that nothing worse had happened. The visitor, face as red as his hair with anger, practically exploded: “You forgot something!” and seemed to have difficulty not adding “… you idiots!” The gathered servers reviewed all their procedure silently, wondering what they might have left out. Tired of waiting for them to “get it,” the visitor shouted in frustration: “JESUS!” and slammed the door on his way out. The servers clucked and shook their heads, one of them commenting about using the Lord’s name in vain in His own house.
What do I bring to the table?
Sunday, our preaching minister presided at the table, and beforehand introduced a clip from the movie Antwone Fisher – explaining that Antwone had been abused as a foster child; had gauged his foster mother’s mood by whether she made pancakes for breakfast (good mood); had been encouraged and accompanied by a counselor to reunite with his family … then said we would what awaits us at Christ’s table. The clip showed his greeting by enthusiastic young kindred in the hallway as they usher him into the dining room where the older kin wait, silent around a full table including, yes, pancakes. The family’s matriarch beckons him to sit next to her at the head of the table; clasps both of his hands with her very own and utters the word he yearns to hear: “Welcome.” If the picture of a meal of redemptive reunion in Christ was lost on some at my church, it wasn’t completely missed by my nine-year-old daughter. When she told her mommy that the clip made her miss her birth-mother, they both wept.
What do I bring to the table?
Sometimes nothing. Sometimes all I have. Sometimes I leave filled with more than I could have possibly brought. Sometimes I leave empty. Sometimes I share something important with God, His Son, and my brothers and sisters there. Sometimes I fail to perceive they’re even there.
Sometimes it all goes right. Sometimes it all goes wrong.
I still come back to it: hungry, hopeful, joyful, joyless, aware, absent-minded, praising, hurting, remembering, anticipating.
No matter what I bring to it or leave behind; no matter where I am physically or spiritually, the table is always surrounded by needy guests and tended by a loving Host.
And I am at home.