Words for St Mary’s Whitkirk in thanksgiving for Holy Communion…
Tonight we meet to celebrate God’s gift of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. To be reminded that the central act of our faith takes place around a table…that our table is just part of a table found wherever there are Christians…and just a glimpse of the table we hope we will somehow find in heaven.
I have a picture to help us think about this mystery.
It’s a painting, by artist Sieger Koder. He invites us into the Lord’s house, into his Kingdom. What greets us is a table. It’s a very ordinary table…so our eyes are drawn instead to the people around it…to see who has been welcomed to eat with Christ.
It’s called ‘The meal with sinners’; reminding us that Jesus so often caused scandal by eating with ‘the wrong people’.
So we look around the table
- front left is a Jew in his prayer shawl…perhaps a reminder that Christ was a Jew, perhaps a reminder that Christ is known in places far beyond our imagining…that it’s not for us to worry who is in and who is not.
- next to him a woman dressed in scarlet – a woman of dodgy morals perhaps – clutching the cup to her – gazing boldly at Christ…a reminder that Christ always seeks those on the margins…the ones we might be uncomfortable sharing the table with.
- the next woman is aged and poor – maybe unable even to lift her head to look at Christ – but like those who share communion in Colton Lodges or in their own homes…still part of the one body.
- then – rather surprisingly – a clown. Does he represent the foolishness of God, that finds strength in weakness?…or those who are called to be fools for Christ?…or do his clown’s face and silliness mask the pain and suffering he dares not bring to the table?
- Next to the clown – a scholar – thoughtful – prayerfully interpreting the words and actions of Jesus anew for his own times.
- the last two are a woman with a widow’s veil, and an injured man…representing perhaps the bereaved, the sick, the lonely, the suffering.
These are the people, suggests the artist, who will be found at God’s table. Maybe not those we expect. For me it’s a reminder that we don’t come to the table once our faith is sorted, once we know Jesus…we come to the table in order to get to know Jesus.
So, this odd assortment of people sit together, sharing bread and wine and gazing at Jesus. But this isn’t the experience the artist gives to us. We are invited to sit where Jesus sits and see as Jesus sees.
We might want to ask – as people often did – ‘why does he choose to eat with them?’…but we’re challenged to look on them as Jesus does, to see them as his friends, to love them for who they are, not for who we’d like them to be.
Because, although we each come to encounter the mystery of God…we never come to the table alone. We’re invited and welcomed together. So coming weekly to this table shouldn’t just feed our faith but build us into a community learning to look on one another through Jesus’ eyes.
Finally, in the background of the picture, on the wall of the house, is an etching. It shows the story of the Prodigal son. The Father embracing the son tells us of the welcome that is always found at this table. But to one side sits the envious older brother – who just can’t bring himself to join the feast.
For me – a reminder that God never forces – he only invites. And also that if I can’t cope with the people Jesus seems to have invited – I’m the one who loses out.
I love this painting – there’s just one thing I might have included – an empty chair. Because the invitation is for everyone – and there’s always more room at the table.
With the picture in front of us – let’s pray…
Gracious God, You surprise us with those you invite to your table. May we welcome the stranger, as you welcomed them on earth,and may we be surprised and filled with joy, to discover that we too are invited to the heavenly feast in your kingdom. Amen
(Much of this was inspired by the book ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’ by Magdalene Lawler…reflections on the art of Sieger Koder.)