The “Risk of the Table”

“When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him…” (Luke 22:14)

The “Risk of the Table”

Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace, May 9, 2014

Please click here for a PDF of Spirit Soundings: SantanaGraceSpiritSoundings9MAY2014 


As my first 100 days come to a close, I find myself deep in thought about the countless conversations of which I’ve been privileged to be a part.  I have preached, attended worship services, attended regional meetings, broken bread, hosted gatherings, celebrated ordinations and installations, and have had multiple gatherings and meetings.  Your gracious embrace has helped greatly as I attempt to navigate the transition from the west to the east coast.  My heart has been filled by your encouragement and by your prayers and articulated hopes – as we dare dream dreams together about where God is calling us.  My heart has also been weighted as I hear of pain that has shaped a part of our history.

Our conversations have led me to again reflect on the image of the “table.”  As you already know, the image of the “table” has profoundly shaped my theology of ministry.  I have experienced how the table seems to be a haven for people – as long as “those people” have much in common.  I have also experienced how the table becomes less of a haven for people – when faced with differences based upon race, language, gender, sexual identity, political or theological perspectives.

ssmay9It is no surprise that the “table” continues to be one of the most powerful cultural symbols of human kind.  Life-changing decisions are made at the table.  Games are played.  We engage in conversations.  We break bread at the table.  We laugh and cry at the table.  The table reflects that place where we engage our colleagues, friends and family, those we trust or love.  It is difficult for us to sit at the table with people who are “different,” let alone people we “dislike” or with whom we “disagree.”

As I consider the road before us, I am once again struck by whom it is that Jesus invites and includes at his table.  It was a strange mix of followers with backgrounds so dissimilar that it is a wonder they rallied around anything together.  This being said, I don’t believe Jesus was naïve when he invited zealots, fishermen, and tax collectors to gather together.  I don’t believe Jesus was unaware of the harsh reality before him.  Jesus understood that it would be from his most intimate table, that betrayal, denial and vying for power would show its ugly head.  That is the risk of the table.  But yet Jesus chose to stay at that table, claiming it as a place of servant-hood, growth, grace, love and sharing.

I believe that as followers of Jesus, we are indeed called to model what it means to stay at the table.  I believe we are called to look each other in the eyes – and talk out our differences and understandings; to hear one another in ways that require hard and relational work.  I was recently reminded that we are not called to ‘microwave’ ministry.  Our witness requires time, commitment and patience. The alternative to spending time at the table together will instead allow us to perpetuate stereotypes and negative assumptions about the “others” in the room.  And the truth is that quite often making those assumptions becomes a way of remaining sheltered in our unchallenged views – whatever they might be.

My conviction about coming to and staying at the table should not be mistaken with agreement.  It is about modeling our lives after Jesus. It does mean however that we honor the gift of humanity in one another.  It does mean that we acknowledge the face of one another with respect.  It does mean that we speak with and to one another in a way that honors the grace we’ve received. It means that we break bread and pray and serve, risking all the rejection, betrayal and denial it might bring. In essence, it means that we are willing to risk being loved and embraced.

This is an important historic moment for the Church of Jesus Christ. There is a sense that structures and institutions must change for the church to respond in ways that are relevant and timely to the challenges we face.  There is a sense that God is calling us to new ways to serve and proclaim the Gospel.  I believe it is a historic moment for us as a presbytery as well.  There is a stirring in and among us – I can feel it in our conversations and gatherings.  I am both encouraged while experiencing a sense of trepidation for the road before us.   I bring a hope for who we are called to be in all our imperfection. I also understand we have much work to do, but how we choose to do that work; how we choose to be a community; how we choose to encourage our congregations; how we choose to receive new colleagues into our midst; how we choose to equip one another – well that is up to us as a community of faith.

There is no question – we are a people with much history.  And with much history also come the stories and memories of both courage and pain.  But it is my prayer that we will use that courage and pain to build a new season of possibilities together.  It is my prayer that we will choose to sit with one another at table; that we will choose to lead from a place of vision and courage, and not a place of fear and anger.  Jesus knew with whom he sat when he invited that disconnected group of people to his table. The risks were there then; they are there now – but the alternative is not really an option for a people who claim resurrection possibilities.