This week as many of our county’s youngsters return to school their parents and grandparents will be sending prayers heavenward on their behalf. There will of course be prayers of thanksgiving for past friendships renewed as children gather again at school and see familiar faces of teachers and classmates. But I suspect that there will also be a few anxious prayers, too. “Let my son find a really good group of friends that he can feel at home with.” “Help my daughter know that she is loved for the person that she truly is.” Parents and relatives of school-age children may often envision their young ones in the lunchroom and on the playground. They may at times wonder whether their kids feel safe to be the people God made them to be…yet also have that social circle where they feel appreciated and valued by their peers. Yes, back-to-school is all about reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, but parents will assure you it is so much more!
Indeed, there are few human needs felt as keenly as the need to belong. And there are few places where that need is addressed (or ignored) as meaningfully as it might be around a table, where people gather to share a meal with one another. Just consider your happiest—and most uncomfortable or awkward—moments from those days in the school lunch room. Consider the most memorable—or dysfunctional—family feast! In our text for this Sunday (to read it, click here) Jesus uses the occasion of a meal to address the matter of belonging. While gathered to dine with an elite group of Pharisees and teachers of the law, He notices how some guests first choose the most highly honored seats. He instructs them to do the opposite: choosing seats of lower distinction will mean that their host may honor them by having them move higher later on. Then Jesus turns to the host of the meal and tells him next time not to invite his friends and rich neighbors, but rather “the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind.” By including those who in first-century Palestine could not “repay” him, both he as host of the meal and those invited, would be blessed. And all of this occurs in the context of a man at the meal whom Jesus had just healed on the Sabbath day of rest (14:1-6). Healing a man with “dropsy” (edema, or bodily swelling) in this setting Jesus not only demonstrates himself to be Lord of the Sabbath. He is One whose very presence at a meal has the power to restore. Jesus’ words and actions grant those who are broken, bound, or burdened a place at the table!
That’s why it’s my privilege, as the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, to say to every one of you on Sunday morning, “Welcome to the table of the Lord!” Every Sunday we all have a place at the table of the Lord because of the sufficient sacrifice for sin Jesus made at Calvary’s cross…an event that we commemorate and proclaim through the Sacrament of Holy Communion week after week. Through eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus, connected with God’s Word and therefore “in, with, and under” ordinary bread and wine, we are gathered together in a community of forgiven sinners who experience the love of God together. The difference that makes is that in Jesus we truly do belong. Not in some abstract, philosophical, Hallmark-greeting-card sort of way. No, in Jesus we truly belong to the Triune God of the universe and to one another, all the people we see with our own eyes gathered around the Table of the Lord this Sunday, eating the Lord’s Supper together with us…and all the people around the world or who have gone before us, who do or have done the same.
Knowing that in Christ Jesus you will always have a place at the Father’s table, who might you welcome to one of your tables this week?