The Open Table

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The story of the meal ♦ Service sheet ♦ Reading ♦ Mini-sermon ♦ Feedback

A Eucharist, a meal

The idea came out of the Wednesday small group. We’d been discussing Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday, which is about the seven traditional sacraments.

In the section on Holy Communion, Rachel describes a church – St Lydia’s, New York – where their regular Communion service is a meal that they cook and eat together (see this, page 118). It sounded great. Somebody said, not terribly seriously, “Perhaps we could do that”.

So we decided to! After some brainstorming, a little arguing, lots of planning, list-making, liturgy-writing, prayer, shopping, hard work and panic … it happened. A meal that was a Eucharist. A Eucharist in the form of a meal, just as the earliest Christians did when they met together early on the Lord’s Day (Acts 2:42).

The service was also a journey. We started in church, gathered around the edge of the space – welcome, singing, confessing. Some of us then went to reflect quietly in the chapel. Most moved through to the café, washing hands on the way. In small groups we made dough, kneaded it, shaped it, put it in the oven. We chopped vegetables and passed them to Tim to make into a delicious stew. We put fruit into bowls. Some people watched. Some – adults and kids – were in the church making place mats for the table.

We came back into the church, bringing the tables, and laid them out in a valley shape (or a hilltop shape if you were looking from the other side). We set out the long, bendy table with mats, cutlery, plates etc until it was ready to receive us and the food (when cooked).

Now the central part of the Eucharist began. We returned to the edge of the church, sang Alleluia and listened to the Gospel being read and explained. One by one we lit a tea-light candle, prayed silently and took a place at the table. The bread we had baked was brought in, together with gluten-free bread, the stew, water, grape juice, orange juice.

“May God be with you”, said Heston, and as always we replied “and also with you”. In fresh and familiar words he gave thanks to God and blessed the meal and us, the bread and the wine (grape juice), to be for us – and for us to be – the body of Christ.

We served ourselves and each other, passing the soda bread and ladling out the vegetable stew. We ate together, talking with friends we knew and people we were meeting for the first time; there were several people there for whom this service was their first experience of All Hallows. The food was good. There was a warm buzz of chatter and laughter. Whether consciously or not, we recognized Jesus in each other. Some had room for fruit: apples, pears, nectarines, satsumas, grapes. We said the Lord’s Prayer together after our Communion.

A few people had to leave then, but most of us continued our service by taking the plates, dishes etc, and the leftover food, through to the café. Some washed up while others dried and put away; others brought the tables back and put the chairs on their racks. Orare est laborare – work is prayer.

Returning to the church one final time, we blessed each other, sang ‘Mayenziwe ’ntando yakho’, said the Grace together … and went out happily into the rest of the day.

The parable of the Great Feast

Our Gospel reading was Luke 14:12–24, read by Evie in The Message version. The text below has been slightly Anglicized:

Then Jesus turned to the host. “The next time you have a dinner party, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbours, the kind of people who will return the favour. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be – and experience – a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favour, but the favour will be returned – oh, how it will be returned! – at the resurrection of God’s people.”

That triggered a response from one of the guests: “How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom!”

Jesus replied, “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited lots of his friends. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’

“Then they all began to cry off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I’ve bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my apologies.’

“Another said, ‘I’ve just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my apologies.’

“And yet another said, ‘I’ve just got married and need to get home to my wife.’

“The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’

“The servant reported back, ‘Master, I’ve done what you commanded – and there’s still room.’

“The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”

Janet’s mini-sermon

Today we’ve been gathering, baking, cooking, decorating, moving tables and chairs, preparing to share a meal together. All very ordinary things, but our reading today reminds us of the extraordinary in the sharing of a meal together.

Our reading tells the story of a man hosting a feast. A wedding banquet. And he wants this to be an amazing celebration. The food is prepared. The table is set.

The invitations are sent out. To important guests. To close friends. Special guests for a special occasion. To fill the room for an amazing party.

But in our story, the people on the invite list send their replies and the worst thing happens – the answer is no, they’re not coming. They are too busy. They have their own things to attend to, their own concerns. They have their work, their businesses to run. They have family and a farm to look after.

But our host is not daunted. The party must go ahead. The room must be full – there is a wedding to celebrate. The table is ready.

So the servants are sent out, to gather people from the streets. The ordinary folk are the ones who show up, who fill the room, sit at the table, who make the party happen.

As with lots of stories from Jesus, this isn’t just about a couple celebrating their wedding. It is pointing us towards something else. The wedding feast is a picture of God’s kingdom, God’s world order.

This kingdom is the one that began with Jesus, is continuing to come into being now, and will ultimately be completed when Jesus returns, when God finishes his work of bringing about this God’s world order.

In the wedding feast, the servants went out to find everyone who would come. The exclusive guest list for the party was torn up. And this kingdom of God, like the wedding feast, it isn’t just for the VIPs or special friends. The invitation is for us all.

And now, today, as we share our meal together, we are reminding ourselves of this party that started with Jesus. Where everyone is on the guest list. Where we are all welcome. We are all invited to sit at the table.

The question for us is: what is our RSVP? Will we take our place at the table? Will we say yes? Will we say yes to the invitation?

Feedback

“Thank you everyone who planned the eucharistic meal today. Thanks to everyone who took part so wonderfully. The reading was so powerful with Janet’s words.”

“Wow, a big well done to the Wednesday small group for a fantastic service this morning! You’d obviously put so much time and thought into it and it was really meaningful and lovely! Can we do it again sometime?”

“This was such a good thing to do, especially at the moment when there is so much division.”

“I also enjoyed it today with the preparation and eating a ‘last supper’ type meal together! I think we should do it at least twice a year, what do others think? Thanks Heston, Phil, Toby, Janet and everyone else who were involved in organizing this morning.”

Ramona wrote a blog post about the service, published here on the All Hallows website,