The dinner table has always been a special place, the quintessential family location. It is where families gather to break bread, catch up and check-in, eat, drink, be merry.
Sure, some days, maybe even most days, dinner has to be quick and easy, perhaps even scattered or late. Dinner maybe even has to take place at the kitchen counter or in the family car or van, picked up from a drive thru. But there are those times when time stops, everyone is present and in a good mood—and all the phones are set aside— and the family dinner becomes an experience, an event that transcends itself to new levels of, well, family. It becomes special and timeless, even holy.
I can remember growing up my parents and my two siblings sat around our kitchen table every night. We all had our spot—the same every night. Mom would have made “supper” as we called it, and when it was ready she would announce “Come on”. Mom would share stories from work; my brother, the oldest, would tell about something he learned at school; my sister would try to be funny; while I simply tried to eat as much as possible. My dad was usually quiet, but once in a while he would respond—because he never initiated conversation—and share a retort, or ask a follow up question. And everyone once in a while, not very often, Dad would stop eating, point his fork and look squarely in the eye the person who had been sharing, although the three kids all knew we should pay attention, and then expound a peal of wisdom that you’d dare not forget.
Nowadays I am blessed to get to sit around a dinner table with my family, and while there is often screaming and tense negotiations to take just two more bites, there are times of a holy experience—my favorite being when we leave the table full of dishes and head outside for an unscheduled trip to the park or because Violet wants to show off her newest soccer move.
My guess is that each of us can recall holy experiences around our dinner or supper tables, where we shared stories of our story, accounts of failures and successes, wisdom given and wisdom discovered. It is all a holy experience, that leads to something special and timeless— legacy.
Jesus gathered around many a table, and broke many a bread—none more significant that in that upper room the night before his crucifixion. But there were other tables with Jesus too—and all were a holy experience that led to legacy.
Now we are going to talk more about this topic in a moment, but we first need to talk about Easter. Remember, Easter is more a season than a day, and the Easter season actually concludes today.
Certainly, without a doubt, the empty tomb is of HUGE importance to our faith. But what happens at the table, before and after the tomb, can be of huge importance also. We know well what happens at the table on the night before Jesus is crucified, but there is more table conversations that are just as important.
On Easter afternoon, two disciples make the seven-mile trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and along the way they encounter a mysterious stranger, who interprets the Scriptures for them. When he joins them for dinner, he breaks bread with them, and their eyes are opened and they recognize him— it’s Jesus! But then poof— he vanishes—which sends them back to Jerusalem, on Easter evening. Easter evening has never packed the punch of Easter morning, but it can and probably should.
The two disciples race back to Jerusalem, and find the eleven and their companions, in a dining room, where, Jesus appears, and scares them half to death— they think they’re seeing a ghost. But he says, “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then to further prove that he’s no poltergeist, he asks them for some food, which they give and he eats.
It’s then, sitting around the table, that Jesus tells them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” He again opens their minds to understand the Scriptures, and says to them that what was written has come true— the Messiah has suffered and risen from the dead, and now “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Which probably makes the disciples wonder who’s supposed to do this work of “proclaiming repentance and forgiveness”? Talk about your holy dinner table experience! It’s then that I imagine Jesus leaning across the table, maybe pointing with his fork, and saying, “You are witnesses of these things. And now, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here until you have been clothed with power from on high” referring of course to the day of Pentecost. Then he leads them away from the table, one that’s no doubt still covered with dirty dishes. He hikes them out to Bethany, gives them a blessing … and is carried up into heaven.
Easter evening ends with the ascension, according to Luke, but not before a special, timeless, holy experience around the dinner table.
Notice what has happened here, on Easter evening. The mission of the apostles begins not with a visit to a tomb that’s empty, but to a table that is full—full of food, full of people, full of conversation, full of faith—full of life.
So what is the take-away message for us on this Mother’s Day weekend when many of us will be thinking of family, sitting down at table together, and honoring the legacy of the women of worth in our lives?
As we think about the bond between Jesus and his disciples, clearly, there is a sense in which Jesus is back with his family—sharing a meal sure, but a meal that is more than just a meal. It’s a special, timeless, and holy experience that leads to legacy. Sharing the good news is a family legacy that Jesus wants his followers to be a part of— a legacy of proclaiming a message of repentance and forgiveness.
Jesus wants the disciples to maintain the cycle of gratitude and generosity that they’re feeling in his presence— gratitude that death has been conquered by the resurrection, and generosity toward those who need to hear this good news. Jesus wants the disciples to maintain the cycle of receiving forgiveness and new life, sharing selfless love and service. In an act of spiritual legacy, Jesus leaves everything to his spiritual off-spring, including the keys to the kingdom. He promised the Holy Spirit and says, “You are my witnesses of these things.” But he is not giving them this opportunity with any selfish goals in mind. They are being sent out in the power of the Spirit to take the good news of the resurrection to all the nations of the world. It all begins right here. And it begins around the table.
What shall we leave for our children? Our children’s children? The children of our church family? How can we better use our table conversations to influence the children in our lives and create a holy experience and a
faithful legacy? These are important questions to ask, and we can begin to answer them by talking about the things Jesus talked about—the very person whose legacy we aim to instill. We can talk about gratitude, receiving forgiveness and new life; we can talk about sharing selfless service and love and how the Holy Spirit can make that happen.
Now truthfully, this is not easy. One of our contemporary problems is that we’ve come to see the good things of life as an entitlement, rather than a gift; and we’ve lost the sense of wonder and surprise that gives birth to true thankfulness.
John Sandel, a pastoral psychotherapist in Milford, Connecticut, says, “I think when we recognize that we are being given a gift, we feel joy, and gratitude is the experience that flows from this joy. Entitlement only leads to frustration and the loss of joy.”
Because the disciples received the resurrection of Jesus as a pure gift, they felt tremendous gratitude. They were able to receive forgiveness and new life at deeper levels than they could ever imagine before the resurrection. The magnitude of Jesus’ selfless service and love becomes shockingly clear when they realize that his crucifixion wasn’t in vain.
We need to remember, in our busy world, the value of family—that family is a gift—and for too many people a rare gift—which is why a church family becomes so vital. This is important for us to digest because we often underestimate the significance of what happens when we break bread together—when we sit around a table together and share with one another stories of our story; accounts of our failures, and successes; wisdom we have been given and wisdom we have discovered.
So as we prepare to sit down as families today, to celebrate legacy, let us strive to talk about what Jesus talked about: gratitude, generosity, forgiveness and new life, sharing selfless service and love because too often we keep decisions about such ways of life to ourselves, and treat them as a private matter. But why not talk about our feelings of gratitude for our spouse and children openly? Why not discuss giving as a family, and involve children in decisions about where the family generosity will go? This not only brings acts of giving out of the shadows, but it teaches children to see themselves as givers— instead of only recipients. Why not talk about the love of Jesus for us and others. You can’t have a discussion of the cross without getting to the heart of Jesus’ life and work: selfless love and service—for all.
All of this spiritual legacy of God’s hands at work, from ancient of times to present day, to the promise of the Holy Spirit all comes into perspective for the followers of Jesus around the table—be it dinner or supper tables, kitchen counters, breakfast nooks, drive-thrus and car seats—or the communion table.
Wherever you break bread with another, any table will do when it is a full table—full of food, of people, of conversation, of faith and love. For it is our responsibility to share the faith and love of Jesus—and the best place to share these things is around our tables, with those who we aim to share this legacy with. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer, Mother’s Day
Holy God, on this day of celebration and honor, on this day when we consider the legacy of your son, the legacy he left to us, the legacy of our families, and the legacy we seek to share with those who have come after us, we offer our gratitude for our families and friends and friends who are family.
Of all that we have been blessed with by you, your son and his sacrifice, along with the families we have been given, they are among the greatest.
For wisdom of Jesus, and wisdom of others, for the holy experiences of Jesus and the holiness of others, we give you thanks and pray your spirit be upon us to further those blessings through our lives.
Lord God, on this day of considering legacy received and legacy shared, we especially want to thank you for the women in our lives who have contributed to those legacies: our mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and friends.
We thank you for teachers and mentors and youth leaders; for scout leaders and Sunday School teachers and choir directors and coaches.
For all the women in our lives who have nurtured us and loved us, strengthened us and sustained us, for the women we celebrate in our hearts, we thank you—for they have all played a role in our legacy.
We pray you make us worthy of their faithful love and belief in us, and help us to so love others as they have loved us.
Gracious God, in your eternal and divine wisdom you made us for relationship, and we celebrate the people you have brought into our lives, especially the women of our lives we remember and honor today.
For all those who teach us to love, we praise you. For those who inspire us to be generous, just and kind, we thank you. For those who nurture our relationship with you, we rejoice. And, for those who disappoint us, we ask for the grace needed to be compassionate and forgiving.
In all our relationships may we live the truth of your love and legacy for which there is no bounds.
We ask that you would hear now the prayers that come from deep within our hearts, as we share them in this time of holy silence.
All this we pray in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus, who taught us to pray, saying, “Our…”