I’d like for you to picture the best meal you’ve ever had. Go ahead. Imagine it in your mind. Now think of who was with you when you enjoyed that meal.
Were you alone? With a friend? Perhaps it was a family meal?
Now, how many of you were picturing yourself in your school cafeteria?
Oh! Just me?!
Here’s the thing. When I was in high school, our cafeteria ladies didn’t just open packaged food and heat it up. They really cooked. And while we certainly did have access to the popular square pepperoni pizza, they gave us even greater meals from which to choose. And none were as great as the one day each month when our cafeteria ladies rolled out freshly baked yeast rolls and piping hot chicken pastry. On chicken pastry day, no one brought their lunch. No one stood in line for pizza and crinkle cut fries. We piled our trays high with chicken pastry and yeast rolls- many of us forking over an extra 15 cents for additional rolls.
It was on that day that we feasted together. We savored the chicken pastry and had conversations about how much we loved it. We lamented that it was only available once a month. We dreamed of the day it would come again. I genuinely believe we were happier, more pleasant teenagers on the days we had chicken pastry and yeast rolls. It didn’t matter if you’d paid the 85 cents for lunch, or if you received it for free. It didn’t matter if you excelled in athletics, academics, or nothing in particular. All of the things that normally separated us as a student body no longer mattered- we were all united in our love of homemade chicken pastry.
It’s funny how food can do that. We unite around cups of coffee, around holiday meals. We unite around our muffins and bottles of water at the end of worship each Sunday.
We think about food a lot. It’s necessary. It’s inescapable. It matters.
Some of us enjoy food. Some of us eat it because we have to. Some of us have complicated relationships with food. What and how we eat is an important part of all of our lives.
And so, it should come as no surprise that one of Christ’s most profound moments of ministry happens around a meal. As he sat with his disciples in the upper room, eating a meal together, he invited them to more fully understand who he was and what it meant to be his follower. He invited them to a life of service- washing the feet of those who are lowly- inviting into the fold, those who might not typically belong. The disciples gathered around a meal together- fishermen and business men, tax collectors and thieves. That meal united them- those who loved Jesus more than anything… and those who didn’t.
Looking around the room, Christ certainly knew that none were perfect. He knew that he would be betrayed. He knew that they still didn’t fully understand, and that his time for explaining had run out. But instead of giving one more public sermon or healing one more hurting person, he gathered around the table to eat.
With his words “whenever you do this, remember me”, he asserts that the disciples will, in fact, share in a meal again. They will eat again. They will remember that Christ is their sustenance and that which fills their souls. And they will be invited to share that gospel message with whomever is at the table.
And on this World Communion Sunday, we are reminded that this same message has been shared with each of us. When we claim to be disciples of Christ, we are choosing to follow that same model he offered to the disciples so long ago. We must wash the feet of those whose paths are difficult. We will sit around the table with those whom we love- and even those that we don’t. And we will remember that Christ is with us… with all of us.
When I was about 9 or 10, I got in the habit of “playing” communion. I would pour a glass of grape juice, grab a couple of Saltine crackers, and say the words of institution to myself. This was all well and good, but as an only child, it never felt quite complete. So, as soon as someone came over to play or to visit, as long as we had grape juice in the fridge, I was going to suggest that we play communion. I wanted to recreate the truth that is offered when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. The truth of the Gospel isn’t just for me. It isn’t just for you. It’s mean to be shared with everyone.
In today’s scripture passage, John’s vision is a bold one. In the presence of God he sees more people than he can count… people of all nations, all languages- all standing before God in praise. The elder who speaks to John essentially asks “Who are all these people?” When John claims not to know, the elder tells him that the people there (all in white robes) have all come out of something called the great ordeal and are now holy before God. Those in the white robes had given their lives away in order that they might honor Christ. They held on to their faith in spite of whatever hand life dealt them.
Whatever struggle they have faced, it is promised that Christ will speak on their behalf. And the first in a long line of promises is that they will hunger and thirst no more for Christ will guide them to the water of life. No matter what they have been through, they are invited to the table.
And so today, on World Communion Sunday, we are invited to consider John’s revelation- his vision- of what it could be like to be in the presence of God… and realize that we are not alone. We are not the only ones invited to the table. God extends that invitation broadly. And once we have accepted it ourselves, we are encouraged to extend that invitation as well.
We must not hoard God’s invitation for ourselves. We must not assume that we are the only ones who will experiences God’s presence. Instead, John’s vision in Revelation invites us to be looking around to see who all these people are. Who are the ones who have gone through an ordeal? Who are the ones who could deeply benefit from being told they will hunger and thirst no more? Who needs to be protected from the harsh elements of this world? Whose sorry needs to be turned into joy? How might we give our own lives away for the sake of Christ? How might we more intentionally include those who have done the same?
All of us. Everyone in this room is invited. But that also means that everyone who is not in this room is also invited. Isn’t it a beautiful image to think of being fully in the presence of God where there are people as far as the eye can see who are also touched by God’s glory? Imagine being part of a group that claims “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving and honor power and might be unto our God for ever and ever” and knowing that group is not limited to people who look and think and feel exactly like you do! God’s vision is bigger and more inclusive than our hearts can comprehend. Our culture tells us to put folks in boxes of “welcome” and “unwelcome”, yet the kingdom of God tells us that ALL are welcome.
Isn’t it a relief to know that all people are invited in to this picture- regardless of anything that our culture might use to define us? Imagine what it might be like if we were all invited to experience the fullness of God- no matter who we are, what we have experienced, how we have sinned, or how we have suffered!
While John’s revelation gives us important insight into an eternal experience with God, we have to remember that Christ’s life was a reminder that the kingdom of God can be here on earth. We can bring in “all those people” who have been through an ordeal. To the table, we can invite those who have suffered from mental or physical illness. We can invite the refugee and the runaway. We can invite those who are like us and those with whom we can’t identify. We can invite all- not in spite of their lives, but because of them. Because Christ invites each of us to enjoy a meal with him. But his guest list is not full. His guest list does not have limits. His guest list is boundless and invites all around the table to savor the gospel message together.
When we participate in the Lord’s Supper with each other, here in this place, we are just experiencing a microcosm of what it is to be in communion with all. Together, we are claiming the gospel to be true. We are claiming that we believe God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. This image of all gathered around the table is not one that we have to wait to see. World communion Sunday invites us to make it happen now. To see it now. To participate in it now.
World Communion Sunday reminds us that God’s table is one of inclusion. It always leaves a place setting available for one who might stumble in. Inherent in the act of communion is the Gospel message itself. That’s why we so deliberately participate in this meaningful ordinance. Because God’s grace and love is for all. God’s table is for all.
You are invited to the table of Jesus Christ.
If you are rich or poor, healthy or ill, black or white, gay or straight, a citizen or an immigrant, hungry or full, a sinner or a saint. YOU are invited to God’s table. And if you know that you’re invited, it’s now your job to invite someone to sit beside you. Not to fix them first. Not to change who they are. But to remind them that, like you, God wants them there because of who they are, not in spite of it.
Perhaps you will consider today the day that you decided to extend God’s table to all. That we, as a church decide to invite and include all people into the loving arms of this congregation just as Christ does.
God is calling us to make the table bigger. To set more places. To share in a meal with all these people…whoever they are.
And may it be so.