In one of the very last chapters in the very last book of the Christian Bible, Revelation, after pages of confusing imagery and uncertain meanings, after plagues and beasts, after horsemen and scrolls, you find mention of a feast. But not just any meal. A wedding meal. An image that brings to mind long tables full of satisfying food, of rosy cheeks and emptying bottles of wine, of hearty laughs and settled hearts. It is—John, the writer of this cryptic book says—the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Something happens over a shared table. A bond over food is not a bond easily broken. As believers we know the meaning goes as far back as 2,000 years ago, when a Jewish rabbi, gathered His closest friends together, washed their feet, insisted on His certain death, and commissioned them to love another, to serve one another, as He had done them—over bread representing His body, over wine signifying His blood.
Food at the table has always meant more than a necessity. It is a tie, a connectedness that transcends the physical, and becomes spiritual.
In Acts chapter 10, Peter’s vision for the expanding church is one that includes a change in diet. In his dream he sees food—previously excluded to faithful Jews, as said by the God who led that wandering tribe—now suddenly, permitted, reveled in, and all that food represents, including the people behind it, the lifestyles surrounding it, the background emerging from it.
They’re in, God assures. Go, take this glorious news of my resurrected Son to them. Don’t let their differences frighten you. I’m bigger than what separates. My love is more expansive than divisive. In other words, the meal is far larger than you thought. There’s more seating than you ever imagined. Scoot together, make space, there’s room at the table. For everyone.
When I think of the Christian leaders I have the most respect for, I think of people like Peter. Who have been made uncomfortable as God has called them to expand their reach, who have held loosely to all but the very necessary of essentials: Christ crucified, Christ resurrected. Period. Who, like James declared at the Jerusalem Council, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God”—even when that meant disregarding thousands of years worth of laws and traditionally held beliefs to make it so—follow suit. I think of people who live lightly and live well. Who don’t take themselves too seriously, and who follow a God who takes love very seriously. I think of people who have made it their mission to make room for everyone. Who have crowded closer to others in order to make a little more space for a table that miraculously, graciously, by God’s goodness alone, keeps growing.
But I’ve noticed something in recent months particularly. It seems there are others at the table who believe that seating is limited. Who in noticing those making every effort to make room for the marginalized and oppressed, the overlooked and disgraced, are swiftly and efficiently eliminating the seating of those whose vision of the kingdom is farther reaching than their own.
There seems to be an uncomfortable number of lines in the sand being drawn lately. Definitive stances and certain convictions that have made the table, smaller and smaller. Not simply rejecting those other Christians are inviting in, but in effect, dismissing the leaders and ministers who have done the difficult work of making room for them.
The table, once a growing and expansive place, has started to shrink. The studies tell us the Church in North America is decreasing. But in recent weeks it seems as if this isn’t a result of culture, worship style, discipleship or politics. It is our own doing. We are trimming the fat in our own ranks, tightening the guard, sifting through those we deem unfit for a place at the table we did not set.
You believe that? we wonder. Dismissed.
You teach that? we inquire. No longer welcomed.
You are uncertain about this complicated theology? No room for you.
And in the meantime the table is growing emptier, the food growing colder, the wine abandoned, the smiles waning , the scene moving from that of a feast, to that of a witch hunt.
We sit at a table laden with good and plentiful nourishment, and instead of enjoying it, we cannibalize each other. We take our eyes off the meal, off the Lamb whose feast it is, and insist the guest list is ours to manage, the table ours to host, the body of the Lamb, the blood of the Lamb ours to dispense. How arrogant of us.
I believe there is a growing number of us, who have a place at the table, and find it so gloriously welcoming we can’t help but want to include as many as we can, but are now finding our spaces revoked, our chairs removed, our plates carried away. We wouldn’t consider ourselves outside the fold of Evangelical Christianity necessarily, but the determination has been made on our behalf. There is no room for dissenting opinions. We have failed a litmus test we didn’t know we were being judged on. We, along with the ones we would like to make room for, are no longer welcome. The feast, it would seem, is not for the likes of us.
Except that is not the picture of the Jesus I know. In fact, He faced the same problem. In His day there too was a group of people who held tight-fisted to their beliefs, and used their correct thinking to excuse all kinds of despicable behavior. They knew all the Scripture. They believed they spoke for God. They thought the table was small and for the elite. Scripture was clear after all. But then Jesus came and ate with sinners. He kept company with prostitutes. He laughed with tax collectors. He shared meals with unlikely guests. He pulled up a chair for Himself, and then a dozen more for all who were interested, and He passed the bread. And He poured the wine. And doing all of it, He communicated again and again and again, My body, broken for you. My blood, shed for you. My love, always for you.
There is room at the table. For the progressives and the reformers. For the Southern Baptists and the Episcopalians. For the Jen Hatmakers, Russell Moores, John Pipers and Rachel Held Evans’. There’s room for uncommon fellowship at a common table. And if we find ourselves treating people with a contrary message in mind, we are making a mockery of the feast we participate in and the Lamb whose feast it is.
Take away my chair, clear my plate, close the space, if you insist. I must have been at the wrong feast. My feast, my meal, my table, is that with the resurrected Jesus, who ends the book of the Revelation with the words in which every church, and every believer finds inexpressible comfort and undeniable grace:
Whoever is thirsty, let him come;
and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”
Yes and amen.
There is room at the table.