Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

“If Only This Table Could Talk”

 Text:  Selections from John 14, 15, 17

1 Chronicles 16:7-13

            Have you ever heard the saying: “If only these walls could talk, what a story they could tell.” In the 162 years of continuous ministry on this 100 by 105 foot parcel of land, in the 108 years of continuous worship in this very sanctuary, imagine the people these walls have seen come and go: the thousands of members, affiliates and visitors who have offered their worship and praise to God, the 28 pastors who have filled the pulpit of this hallowed place, the thousands of sermons which have been preached within the hearing of these four walls, the Easter morning services where women wore hats and gloves, the Christmas Eve standing room only candlelight services when the wall to your left had to be raised exposing a hidden balcony. Yes, if only these walls could talk, what a story they could tell.

             How about if tables could talk. Imagine the stories they could tell. If you could pick one table with which to have such a conversation, which would it be? For me, it would be the huge, heavy oak table with ornate carving on the retractable end boards and pineapple style legs which for gene-rations sat in the dining room of my grandmother Lalama’s home. That table was a place of nourishment. Around that table, our family would gather for Sunday meals and holiday feasts. Under that table, with the aid of old afghans and quilts [and some imagination], my cousins and I would transform that table into a clubhouse. Upon that table, my friend Domenick and I used to play Pokeno with my grandmother for pennies. We always left “light.” On the occasion of my grandmother’s passing that table was filled with platters of food offered by relatives, friends, and neighbors. A few days later, our family gathered around that old oak table for a solemn, but not altogether sad, meal. We ate that meal in memory of her. Having been auctioned off years ago by my Aunt Eleanor, I do not know where that table now sits. But I pray it still nourishes someone, somewhere.

            A lot of nourishment happened at that table. But beyond the miracle of bodily nutrition, beyond the metabolism of meat into muscle growth and pasta into energy, another kind of nourishment happened. More than what was eaten, sustenance came through the place where and the persons with whom the meals were shared.

            This morning, we come to another table of nourishment; a table around which many have gathered over the years to share a common meal; a table around which many memories are met; a table which stands for a universal family gathering where the elements of the meal are transcended by the One in whose memory we eat. Fredrick Buechner once wrote a book entitled A Room Called Remember. In it, he encourages the reader to reflect on those places where and per- sons who in our lives have nourished us with a sustenance of remembering. He suggests this is how the shared memory of Jesus Christ nourishes the Christian family. He writes: “The past and the future. Memory and expectations. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for Him whose face we all of us know, because somewhere in the past, we have faintly seen it; whose life we all of us hunger and thirst for, because somewhere in the past, we have seen it lived, have maybe even had memories of living it ourselves. Remember Him who Himself remembers us, as He promised to remember the thief who died beside Him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come through in us, through our hoping. Praise Him.”

            All these elements: memory, hope, expectation are a part of our shared experience as we gather around the remembrance table of Christ; elements which feed us and nourish us beyond the bread and the juice. At the Lord’s Table, we are nourished by the collective memory of Jesus’ earthly life; a life in which He taught His disciples – and continues to teach us – the ways of truth and the values of the Kingdom of God: that serving is more honorable than being served; that giving is more nutritional than receiving; that forgiveness is the pinnacle of the Christian’s call; that we are never forsaken or left alone; that God’s presence is as abiding as the very air we breathe; that the essence of the Creator of the universe is not judgment, but mercy; that when all is said and done, love remains and prevails.

            Jesus said that these truths and values He came to teach and live are what we’re to remember every time we come to this table for a communal meal. When Jesus shared His last supper with His disciples, He told them: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you.” So by the Holy Spirit, we share a common memory, a common language, a common understanding, a common call, common Kingdom values, all of which feed and nourish and sustainus as community. We share this remembrance with all who have gathered around this table beforeus, and with all those who are yet to come.

            As we gather around the remembrance table of Christ this morning, we are nourished by Jesus’ words of hope; hope which goes beyond the world’s understanding of hope; a hope which stands fast in the face of suffering and tragedy; a hope in a future yet unseen, but a future in which we will see a righting of all wrong; a future in which suffering and tragedy will be left behind for all eternity; a future in which glory will arise from the ashes of mortality, and life will overcome death once and for all; a future in which we will have no fear. Jesus continues to reassure His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid…… So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” So you see, we share a common hope when we share at this table; the hope, and the promise, that our Lord will one day sit with us at table again in His fulfilled Kingdom, and around that table will be our loved ones gone before us in the Lord, never to be separated again.

            As we gather around the remembrance table of Christ, we find nourishment in our expectation of oneness in love; that in spite of our differences of opinion, of culture, of doctrine, even of theology, we will someday truly sit down together. Black and white. Rich and poor. Educated and uneducated. Male and female. Gay and straight. All barriers will be pulled down, and at the table of remembrance and hope, we will become one (with a small o) in One (with a capital O). Jesus’ very last words before His arrest as recorded by John are these words of prayer for unity: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

            Now we come to this table for nourishment, nourishment in the memory of Jesus – His teaching, His word, His life, His death, His resurrection; nourishment in the common hope in Jesus’ promises; nourishment in sharing the expectation that in Christ, we will truly become one. If this table could talk, perhaps these are the things it might say.  This Lord’s Day, let’s fully open ourselves to all the nourishment this table has to offer. I’d like to close this meditation with Jesus’ greatest mandate, and His greatest expression of what communion is all about: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. you are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”  

            If only this table could talk, what a story it could tell. I think for we who have spiritual ears to listen, this table has talked, and its story has been told.