A Tale of Two Tables – The Thanksgiving Table and The Lord’s Table

In popular American folklore, the first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621.  We learn about the pilgrims with their funny hats and their previous sufferings.  We learn about Squanto, a Native American who was aligned with the Wampanoag tribe, who taught the pilgrims how to grow corn and catch eels.  And the paintings and other depictions that we usually see of this event are colorful, peaceful, and inviting.  It is the perfect picture of harmony.

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How appropriate it is then that we should recall that picture as we gather in the church-community, a place where we celebrate the Eucharist and a place where we experience fellowship.

So, this week, we are called to remember two tables.  We are called to remember the Thanksgiving Table, and we are called to remember the Lord’s Table.  The two, after all, have much in common.  Both are a meal of sharing.  Both are meant to call out the best of humanity.  Both are a chance for fellowship.

But let’s be honest.  Sometimes, we botch that, we mess up the pretty picture that has been painted for us.

When I was a child, Thanksgiving was always celebrated at my grandmother’s house.  She had a large living room, which was perfect for an extra-large table and an equally large buffet.  This was, to be honest, the best possible place for us to have Thanksgiving.  There are fond memories of that time and place.  I would play with my cousins: hide-and-seek, tag, and games that we just made up.  My grandfather, who was Cherokee, had a great sense of humor, and he too made the event great.  But let me be honest about something here.  There was a part of Thanksgiving that I always dreaded.  That part was Aunt Jean.  I couldn’t stand Aunt Jean.  For whatever reason, I always found Aunt Jean to be a little too uptight, and I always found a way to bring that out of her.  She would routinely fuss about the most ridiculous things.  She didn’t think that we children used our napkins often enough.  She wouldn’t let us listen to our music in the other room.  She felt some need to control things that weren’t hers to control.  For instance, in one room adjacent to the living room, I had an entire room in which I could design a city for my action figures.  There was a system in place in my made-up city: there were two governments, there were offices and officers, and there were two militaries.  And sometimes, Aunt Jean would let herself into my territory and begin to “clean up.”  And although I didn’t deploy my figurine military, every holiday at my grandma’s house, there was a war going on, despite all the pretty pictures of our sharing food.  And it was a bit childish.

And that, war, is what would later happen with the Wampanoag tribe and the English settlers, the people we see in our Thanksgiving pictures and imaginations.  Except, with them, it would not appear to be so childish.  It was a real war, called “King Philip’s War” or “The First Indian War.”  So, in 1675, we have the First Indian War, which took place all over New England.  It chronologically follows the First Thanksgiving.  In the relatively short time span of fifty years, we go from sharing deer meat and corn to killing one another.  The people we are supposed to see in our Thanksgiving pictures, the Wampanoag people, were decimated.  Almost half of the tribe was wiped out in the war.  Most of the surviving men were shipped off as slaves to other parts of the globe.  The women and children of the tribe who survived were sold into slavery in New England.  And that’s what happened with the descendants of the First Thanksgiving.  And although such tragedies as these are very serious, I think it’s safe to say that this is another instance of people acting really childishly.

And so it appears that there are some differences between the Lord’s Table and the Thanksgiving Table.  The Thanksgiving Table is, of course, an important table.  Such a table seeks to tap into the best in us, to encourage it, to coax it out of us.  It has a fine sentiment to it.  But it is a human table.  It is a table that, although full of food and fine china and wine and sparkling grape juice, is lacking.

The Thanksgiving Table can be a great place to see the best in people, but it is not guaranteed to happen.  Oftentimes, the Thanksgiving Table is just another human attempt to bring out the best in human beings.  Such attempts anthro-centric, and those attempts can go any number of ways.  At best, they are bright for a time and then go lukewarm.  At worst…well…King Philip’s or Aunt Jean’s war happens.  This type of table can be disguised ingeniously, often taking the form of a pretty and idealized picture.  But no matter how pretty the picture, if you can’t see God at the Thanksgiving Table, if you can’t see the Lord at the table, in short, if you don’t see the Lord’s Table there, then you’re missing something.  You’re missing something big.  You’re missing God.

Without God, the First Thanksgiving turns into the First Indian War.  Without God, my family meal turns into a pointless and hurtful feud between me and Aunt Jean.  Without God, a friendly invitation to another house turns into a chance to judge someone, create conflict, and completely miss the point.

A meal where God’s presence is realized and seen and witnessed is the Eucharist occurring in our daily lives.  A meal where Christ, instead of us human beings, presides, where Christ is the master of ceremonies, is a meal where the Kingdom of God is proclaimed.  And what other than real fellowship, which is where humble humanity is no longer painting a picture of imagined greatness, can occur at this table?  Can you imagine a table where wounds are healed?  Can you imagine a table where laughter, fun, and peace rule the day?  Can you imagine a table of salvation, a table that is here-and-now?  Only a table under the command and lordship of Jesus Christ can have that.

Can we let Jesus help us to admit that He owns the table, that His table is the greatest of tables, that His table is open for all in real fellowship, where no human is the slave of another human but where we serve God and one another in mutuality?  The Lord’s Table, the Real Lord’s Table, is a place where the Prince of Peace reigns.

We can’t do this on our own.  Our attempts to do this end up as pretty pictures, pretty lies, seductive ideas.  Only God can bring this up for us and in us.  Only God can create the Lord’s Table, which is the final and only true form of the Thanksgiving Table; the Lord’s Table is the evolution of the Thanksgiving Table.  During this week, in the places to which you go for a thanksgiving meal, try to hold this promise and grace of the Lord having a table for you, me, and everyone in your heart, in our body, in our soul.  As you offer thanksgiving this year, look for Christ, pray for Christ, as much as possible let Christ own the table, and may the day soon come when every table is under the Lord’s Table.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will own your table.

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