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The Table

President’s Blog
February 24, 2014

first-supper-last-supper-by-susan-dorothea-white copyYesterday, I attended First United Methodist at the Chicago Temple, my home congregation. It was the last Sunday in Black History month and one of our current Ph.D. students, Rev. Michele Watkins-Branch, was the guest preacher. She delivered a prophetic word, based on Psalm 94  - erudite and compelling. At one point, she pointed to the Table and observed that Jesus had invited a zealot and a tax collector to come and sit at the same Table. It was “a dangerous alliance” with the power to pave a path toward freedom. I was proud to call her ours.  

Shortly after the sermon as the communion ritual began, I was confronted, as I am every Sunday there, with the experience of racial/ethnic/gender/sexuality diversity. It is not something simply talked about and hoped for, but it is something that is embodied before my eyes as our pastoral staff, interns, choirs, and members gather around the Table.

There were eight persons: 4 Caucasians (one older male, the pastor; one young adult male; one middle-aged woman, an associate pastor; and one young adult woman); 1 young Asian woman; one young African American female, our preacher; one African American 3rd grade boy who had earlier read the gospel lesson from John (“and a little child shall lead them”); and one middle aged Chilean man, an associate pastor at the church. As each one shared leadership in the ritual, I marveled yet again at the power of God’s call to a banquet table and the eschatological vision of a time when, despite our differences, we can all gather together in true love of neighbor.

I think of the final scene in the movie, “Places in the Heart” where the congregation in a small church in Texas is engaged in a communion service. As the bread and the cup are passed up and down the pews, people begin to almost inaudibly, say, “God’s peace” to the next person. It begins to become clear that persons are present who had died or who had been murdered earlier in the film – some of these black victims sitting next to the Ku Klux Klan members who had taken their lives. “God’s peace” as the young boy passes the bread to his murderer.

I have struggled to understand the psychology of being able to speak a word of God’s peace to someone who has committed a heinous crime against your body and soul. I have to conclude this capacity goes much beyond the call to celebrate difference and to live joyfully in the midst of the Creator’s human rainbow – difficult as even that seems to be for us.  Such forgiveness seems impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. I think of the genocide in Rwanda and the justice and truth processes there trying to establish peaceful living. And I think of the earlier South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While fraught with difficulties, transformation still at work.

We have given ourselves to a faith that asks the humanly impossible of us, but that calls us, nonetheless, to love our enemies, to love our neighbors, to treat all persons with respect and dignity and to work for the well being of all. The vision at the Table each week inspires me, in the face of our human frailty, to keep struggling for this justice. And, I must also trust in the ultimate establishment of God’s righteousness.

“For the Lord will not forsake his people; God will not abandon God’s heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it. Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.”          Psalm 94:14-17

Photo Credit:  Susan Dorothea White

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