I look down at my dish with the food piled high and then around at the table with smiles piled higher. It’s been a few months since we were last at this table, all of us together. Some of us are a few inches taller, others with beards just a little bit longer. In between swallows and thank you’s and passing potatoes, we are singing an off-pitch, unrestrained melody that rings with happiness, belonging, and home.
There’s a place for each of us, here, at this piled high table, where both food and joy abound. Here, in the dining room of my childhood home, each of us come and are loved as we are, not were, will be or wished. Here at this table, the skins come off, and we’re washed deep in the remedy of acceptance. It is here in this room that my mother greets each of us, family by friendship or blood, and tells us to have a seat. And the sharing and exchanging of both food and heart is enough to fill that longing place between the belly and soul.
Here, the food is a delight, but were our hearts empty, it would be lacking. It’s a hard, lonely thing, to attempt hospitality when in our own hearts, there’s no room. Too many times, we open doors but cross our arms, to protect ourselves or to shut others out. Some of us are afraid of our own shortcomings. We cook, clean, and scrub the cracks in the floors because we worry that what they will say is kinder than what they will think, and to us, what they think matters. We are afraid of discovering our own place at the table is not really a seat, but a stool- that we are less than our guests and less than the picture we dreamed for ourselves- and so we open our homes with chains on the doors.
Other times, we extend hospitality by invitation but not warmth. We think, do they really have to come? As we set the table in matching colors, we martyr ourselves and make a list of their sins against us. We think, how nice we are, to welcome them in, after the way they acted last Christmas. And we don’t hold grudges, we think, as we give them short answers and the chair that wobbles, as we talk pointedly and extensively with their neighbor but not them. Because, after all, isn’t it enough that we opened our doors?
The problem with this half-hospitality, this Martha Stewart presentation with none of the soul stirring smiles, is that it makes us small. As we worry and as we judge, our hearts made to swell shrivel and burrow, allowing us to enjoy only a shadow of true hospitality’s joy, the kind where we simply are and belong, where the table is big and wide, where we all sit at the same height.
I’ve experienced this at my mother’s table, but at another place even more poignantly- my church’s communion line. As the droplets of sweet hymns slowly fill the sanctuary, we sit, all too aware of our shortcomings. We are invited, in this state, to come to the table of the feast of the Lord. Not wanting to cause a scene, forward we walk, smiles on our faces and shackles on our souls, purely imperfect in the face of the perfect. Could there really be a place at the Lord’s table for us?
The answer comes clear- a resounding yes. We’ve come deserving only rejection, only crossed arms and meager portions; we are given instead the bounty of the living. We come as beggars and are treated as kings. We feast on the wine and bread and are told of the feast eternal that awaits us, where there is a place for each of us. We walk back to our pews, watching others come forward, and are reminded that, yes, there is a place for them too. A place for each of us, at the table of the Lord, where forgiveness and acceptance run through each vein, where the feast is made all the more joyful because we know we belong.
How fine and abundant the food will taste; how our homes will sparkle and shine when there is a place at our table for everyone.
**This post was originally written for and published by The Pure and Simple Blog.