Coming to the table in love

Communion elements[Reflections for an interdenominational Holy Thursday communion service]

Perhaps the most precious possession left by my grandmother Edith, who had few possessions to leave, was an old kitchen spoon. Dulled with the patina of its age and worn flat on one side by decades of stirring whatever was cooking on her stove, it would hardly have rated a second glance at a garage sale. But to us who know its story, the worth of that spoon cannot be calculated.

It wasn’t only herself and her six children that young widow fed – including my mother, the youngest, who was still an infant – starting in the years before the Great Depression and continuing past World War II. There was always enough at Edith’s table for neighboring children who had even less to eat and who would stop in on their way to school, and for the ancient woman I knew only as Aunt Tiny, a neighbor with no family for whom my grandmother provided simple room and board in the years after the war.

The times were hard, the resources meager and precious, and I don’t know how she managed. But in her love for those who shared life with her in that little town in western Tennessee and who had needs at least as great as her own, there was always room at her table for anyone who was hungry.

She never explained her motives in my hearing. She may have known the word “theology,” but I never heard her use it. But when a neighbor had a need and she had something extra, she shared it, and both she and the neighbor were blessed, and they were both grateful, and in that simple exchange Eucharist was celebrated.

Edith understood John Wesley and his theology of the table. Wesley knew people didn’t think alike, and he knew they didn’t practice their faith alike. He recognized those differences as the two great hindrances to Christian unity. But he wondered: “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt,” he said, “we may.”

Wesley did not say our differences are unimportant. He knew they are very important. But more than what we believe or how we practice our faith, Wesley wanted to know if our hearts are right with God, with each other, and with our neighbors. Do we love one another as God loved us? And are we committed to showing that love to one another? If so, he said, then “give me thine hand.”

We don’t need to share the same opinions nor embrace the same style of worship. Each of us must think and act as we are persuaded in our own minds. When he said “give me thine hand,” Wesley meant “love me”: love me as a friend who is closer than a brother or sister; love me with patience and kindness; commend me to God in all your prayers; provoke me to love and to good works; and love me not only in word, but love me in deed and in truth.

All of us are hungry for the grace God provides at this table. And in God’s extravagant abundance, there is more than enough here to satisfy all of us, with baskets full of leftovers. We don’t come to this table because we share our theology, our beliefs, or our faith practices. We come to this table because God loves us and wants to feed our hunger. We come to this table in love for one another, desiring nothing more than that we are all fed. And I think my dear Baptist grandmother Edith would be glad to be here with us, loving every minute of it and every one of us.

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