at the table Easter Morning

Have you ever been afraid, and amazed? At the same time?

Those are the emotions of the resurrection. Mark is our earliest gospel and most scholars will say our most honest, our most bare, our least re-touched account of these events. The women here do not look faithful; they do not “go and tell” their news – they aren’t even quite sure what it is, or that it’s good. They are amazed, and they are afraid. And of course they are. What else could they be?

A seminary professor of mine, Don Juel, was fascinated by the end of Mark – and so frustrated by our tendency to try to make it all ok. By our desperately saying, “Eventually the women must have told the story – how else would we have it today?”

He said the move Mark always makes is to set the divine free. Earlier in this gospel, the curtain in the temple rips – the holy of holies that it protected, the most sacred place of all, where God was thought to dwell – the curtain around it rips. My classmates said, “It’s to let people in. So now people can approach God. Now there’s no barrier.” My professor said, “Oh, no. It’s not to let people in. It’s to let God out.”

And here, the stone is rolled away. The women come and it’s gone and they are terrified and say nothing to anyone. But here’s what else this means – Jesus is out. Maybe the followers find their voices; maybe they don’t. This doesn’t depend on them. People even more afraid than these women tried to contain the love that Jesus gave away to the least likely among them; they tried to silence the challenge he posed to the powerful; they tried to suppress the stories he told about a reign of God that directly contradicted the rule of their day. But the stone is gone, and that love and that challenge and those stories – they’re all out again.

That’s the story we step into now. Even afraid and amazed, we take our places around the table, and know that the end of Mark’s story – unfinished as it is – is the beginning of ours.

Communion elements

slogan and sacrament

My family spent last week in the mountains, in Colorado, and we made the long drive back across Kansas on I-70 yesterday. I always try to pay attention to the signs on that road – the details change but the home-cooked Christianity remains the same: now, there’s one of Jesus holding up a few fingers, with the line, “Jesus, I trust you” across it… There’s one that just proclaims, stark, italicized capital letters on a plain backdrop, that “JESUS IS REAL”… There’s one with no words at all, just a long-haired Jesus head peeking out over a golden field of wheat, and holding a few stalks of it in his hand…

I was playing this game in my head, wondering about what a suburban equivalent of these rural highway signs might be, thinking about what Saint Andrew’s message, boiled down to billboard-slogan style, might be…

And then we came upon another. Not as polished as the others; it wasn’t professionally done. Just some hand-painted block letters on a big white sign posted in some central Kansas farmland. And it said, “I Need a Kidney.” And across the bottom, the phone number.

I looked it up when we got home – James Nelson, who used to paint murals, rented the sign after he got the idea from a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. He drug a ladder out into the field where it stands and and hiked his 70-year-old self up to paint the message for his wife, Sharon. They’ve had lots of calls, but so far none of the offers have worked out. They’re still hopeful that some kind soul, with the right blood type and enough time to slow down and copy the phone number, will find them.

I’ve never felt like those other signs are particularly loving – those theological arguments posted along I-70. I’ve thought they were sometimes clever… sometimes threatening… but this one, that just spoke of the woman’s need – something about it reached off the painted wood and into my spirit as we drove by. Her acknowledgment of her need forges a connection between her and all who see that sign. And in that way, I think, it says more about God, about faith, about love, than any of the others out there. It says, honestly, this is who I am. I am, literally, broken. I need you. For healing. And it opens up the possibility that maybe, we need each other.

It’s the same thing a communion table says, right? This table is not clever, or threatening. It is not a theological argument. It simply invites us to be who we are. To acknowledge where we are broken. And maybe when we do, and we come — broken selves to broken bread — we begin to find wholeness.

what happens at the table

This past week, eleven middle-schoolers – five boys, six girls – traveled from Saint Andrew to St. Louis to help out at a day shelter for the homeless, a place called The Bridge. One morning, after the boys and I had peeled bags and bags of sweet potatoes, then helped to make and serve breakfast, we went and sat down with the shelter’s guests, to eat our meal.

The Bridge had laid out chess boards on one table, and our boys usually went right there – other guests of the Bridge would invite them to play, and our boys were able to connect, over those games, with these men who have had such difficult lives. Sometimes the men would share those stories, sometimes they’d share strategy, sometimes they’d barely speak. So I think I probably looked a little proud, and a little sad, on that morning as I sat just to the side and watched them play, these men and our boys.

And then this woman came up to me and introduced herself as Kim, from the Crisis Nursery. I had called them the week before to see if we could volunteer there, so when she came over I figured she was responding to my call, maybe she had work for us to do. She knelt down by my chair, talked me through the services offered by the Crisis Nursery, and I listened, nodded. Then she encouraged me that if I ever need a place for my boys, or just some time to get some help, they were open any hour, day or night – and that’s when I realized she wasn’t speaking to me as the leader of a volunteer group. She didn’t know who I was, of course. She came to me because I came to The Bridge to eat breakfast with these five middle-school boys. And so she came to offer me respite, and care, and the services of the Crisis Nursery, for these boys she assumed were mine, for this family she assumed was homeless.

And that’s when I realized: around a table, everyone is the same. Whatever boundaries I thought existed, to separate volunteers from guests, privileged from homeless – once you all sit down around a table to share a meal, they just don’t. Not in the same way. Because we all gather, in need of nourishment and community, and we are fed, and offered care. And the same thing happens here. We are invited, and given these elements, whoever we are, whatever our story. Whether we come from a place of lack, or a place of abundance, or somewhere in the middle, this feast makes us one.

at the table after tragedy

There is language we use in worship not because it is true yet but because it is all that we yearn for. When what is is enough to shake us to the core, we call on what we hope against hope might be. And it can seem jarring to talk about sanctuary, or to sing about none being afraid, when the reality we share is one where the even the safest spaces are violated, where atrocity and sensation and horror vie for our attention and our energy.

But it is in response to this that we sing, and pray, and gather at this table. We do it as an act of solidarity and as an act of resistance. We do it to say back to the violence that it will not have the last word. We do it not because we imagine how the world might be “when God is a child” but because we know that God is a child. Two thousand and some years ago and Friday and today and years from now, God is a child. God is every child. And so we worship and that means we love children. And so we pray and that means we listen to the most vulnerable among us. And so we gather at this table and that means we share in the promise and the pain of the world, believing that God shares it, too, and holds us as we hold our confusion and our sorrow and our hope.