“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” John Chapter 13:12
This Holy Week we have followed the lectionary reading for each day from Saint John’s Gospel, and so it is we come to John’s account of Jesus being at the table with his disciples sharing their Passover meal.
Meeting Jesus at a table is a significant moment for many people in the Gospels.
Having Jesus sat at the table could mean it was a table of change.
It was certainly a table of change for the tax collector Levi. In Saint Luke Chapter 5 Verse 27 we read of Levi sitting at the table where he conducted his daily business. We are told that Jesus “went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.'” Levi may have left the table for any number of reasons; to follow Jesus, or to ask questions about him, or to complain about him to the authorities.
Levi leaves one table, but it is when he arrives at the other table that we realize that the table has been a place of change. We read in Verse 29, “Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax-collectors and others sitting at the table with them.”
Here is the evidence that the table has been a place of change, to invite someone to share a meal was a mark of respect. Levi was demonstrating to his friends that he held Jesus in high regard. In accepting the hospitality of Levi, Jesus is showing that he believed Levi was sincere. People watching would have been amazed at the scene, amazed at Levi’s change of heart, amazed at Jesus going to such a house.
The table is a place of change for Levi; where is our place of change? Where do we meet with Jesus and realize that we cannot continue as we are, that we have to be different people?
The meal table in the Gospel story is a place of change and it is a place of acceptance.
In Saint Luke Chapter 7, we read that Jesus goes to the house of Simon the Pharisee for a meal. Verse 36 says, “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.” Simon, though, seems to have been more concerned with the honour of having Jesus at his house than in showing proper hospitality.
A woman who wants to see Jesus comes in with a jar of ointment; her tears fall on Jesus’ feet and she wipes his feet with her hair before anointing them with the ointment. Simon is not happy at the woman’s behaviour, but Jesus rebukes him for not providing even basic courtesy while the woman showed profound love. In Verse 46, Jesus declares, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
The table has been a place of acceptance for the woman and it causes questioning. We read in Verse 49, “those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?'” The table for them would have been a place of acceptance only for those of whom they approved.
The story of the events at the table of Simon the Pharisee is a challenge to us. How ready are we to acknowledge our own need of acceptance? How ready are we to accept those who show sorrow for what they have done?
The table may be a place of change, a place of acceptance, in today’s reading it is a place of service.
Saint John Chapter 13 Verse 4 says that Jesus, “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” Jesus could have sat at the table, he could have expected to have been served, instead he takes the role of the servant. His action discomfits the disciples, they are not happy that Jesus should play such a humble role. “You will never wash my feet,” says Peter in Verse 8. Is Peter’s protestation caused by a sense of embarrassment that neither he nor the other disciples had thought to show respect to Jesus by offering to wash his feet?
Jesus is unambiguous about what he expects of the disciples. John tells us that Jesus goes back to the table and questions them to ensure that they have not misunderstood. Verse 12 says that “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” He explains that his example of service is one that they should repeat, that they will only be known as his disciples if they perform such service.
How readily do we follow that example? If being a servant is at the heart of being a Christian, then is there a heart to our faith?
Jesus shares a meal with Levi at a table of change; he meets the woman at a table of acceptance; he washes his disciples feet at a table of service. Saint John does not mention the bread and wine, but at the Passover meal in Jerusalem Jesus shares with his disciples at a table of thanksgiving.
The Passover meal recalled God’s deliverance of his people from their captivity in Egypt, it was a meal of thanksgiving to God for the mighty things he had done, but as Jesus and his friends share the meal, it becomes a new table of thanksgiving. The word for “thanks” in the Gospels is the Greek word “eucharistein”, from which comes our modern word “Eucharist.” The Eucharist is a thanksgiving to God for what he has done for us in Jesus.
Jesus breaks the bread and shares the cup and his actions become a remembrance of his death for us. “Do this in remembrance of me”, Jesus tells the disciples and each time they broke the bread and shared the cup, their table became a table of thanksgiving for what he had done for them
Do we have a sense of the Lord’s table as a table of thanksgiving? When we gather for the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup, does the table recall us to what Jesus has done for us? Are we people genuinely grateful for God’s love?
A table of change, a table of acceptance, a table of service, a table of thanksgiving; a final table is a table of resurrection.
Two disciples have been walking to Emmaus on the Sunday evening and Jesus has walked with them without being recognized. They tell Jesus of all that has happened and Jesus explains why all these things had to be. The disciples reach the village where they are going to stay and Jesus acts as if he is going on, but is asked to join them for a meal. In Saint Luke Chapter 24 Verse 30, we read, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” At that moment the table becomes a table of resurrection, Verse 31 tells us, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
What an extraordinary moment it must have been for those disciples. They know themselves the significance of what has happened, “were not our hearts burning within us?” they ask. The story must have been told and retold many, many times in the years that follows; the story of that table of resurrection has been read by Christians around the world in the twenty centuries since.
When we read that story, at which point do we fit in? Are we like the disciples walking along with a man whom they do not recognize, full of doubts and questions? Or are we like the disciples after Jesus has sat with them at the table and broken the bread, realising that Jesus is with them?
The table in the story asks us questions: about our willingness to change, about us accepting and be accepted, about us having thankful hearts, about us knowing the presence of Jesus with us.
Change, acceptance, service, thanksgiving, and resurrection: do we meet Jesus at a table?