A few years ago two of the Little Brothers of Francis ran a parish weekend for us in Toowoomba. Afterwards, as we offered some hospitality, Brother Geoffrey commented positively on our dining table at home. ‘A square dining table’, he said, ‘that’s unusual, but I like it very much.’ Perhaps a square table is unusual: I hadn’t thought about it before. It was certainly very appropriate for the Brothers’ visit. For, as you may know, St. Francis recommended that each Franciscan Hermitage should have no more than three, or four, Little Brothers. In the chapel of the Little Brothers in Tabulam therefore, there are just four prayer stools or chairs: one in each corner, each facing the Gospel in the centre, balanced symmetrically. Is such mutually enriching balance reflected elsewhere in our church and our world, I wonder? Well, it was for Penny and I and the Little Brothers on that night of their visit. For as we finished our meal together, Brother Wayne suggested we say compline together around the square table. Each of us facing towards a symbol of Christ in the centre, we were then in perfect symmetrical balance, focussed in Christ in mutual enrichment.
Is that an image we usually have of what it is to live in community with Christ, I wonder? If we hear tonight’s Gospel rightly, it is hard to have any other picture. Jesus not only shares food and prayer at table. He waits on his disciples at table, washing their feet. In doing so, he shares with them, in deed and word, the meaning of God’s new commandment he has for them. And then, having symbolically summed up the way of life he taught and embodied, he lives it out to the full. Jesus loves and serves to the very end: even through betrayal, trial, torture, execution and death. For love, only love, is his way...
I have a confession this evening, and a continuing challenge. My confession is that I, like all of us, really struggle with the servant kingship of God in Jesus. I struggle with this as a human being, and as a priest and a theologian. I’d much rather that things were much more straightforward in the task of growing Christian community: that we could know what’s what and who should do this and that. It just isn’t that simple. God, in Jesus Christ, is always calling us into deeper love and service for one another. So I have to learn to trust you much more deeply: to love and serve you more fully: as we all need to learn to trust each other more deeply, and to enable others to trust one another more deeply, in Christ. We need to love and serve each other much more deeply, in each and every thing we do. That’s my confession, for this is my challenge: can we learn to reshape the table of our community of love?
Now some of you might know that I don’t much like meetings with a ‘top’ table and serried rows of chairs facing directly opposite. Of course there are times for that. Mostly however it represents a different kind of table from that of Jesus. In the community of Christ, there is no ‘top’ table, and certainly no serried rows of chairs facing Jesus in opposition. In the community of Christ, we are together. We face each other: even facing those bits of each of us we would rather not face! John’s Gospel, from which we hear tonight is so clear about this. ‘I do not call you servants’, says Jesus, ‘I call you friends’. This is the nature of Christ’s table, where friends gather round together. Some Christian buildings of course, like this one, are arranged differently, for there are other elements to consider. Yet, in each, we are called to meet together, next to one another, face to face, sharing our hurts and our dreams. That’s the reason the liturgical reformers of the last century moved forward the altar, the holy table, so the priest could face the people. It no longer rests against the far wall: so helping us recognize that Christ is not above us, or apart from us, but right here, in our midst, shining in each and every face around us.
My prayer tonight is therefore inspired by tonight’s Gospel we will shortly enact: in the footwashing, in the sharing of Christ’s Peace and in the sharing of his body and blood in the eucharist. It iis for us to create round tables, literally and symbolically: round tables, which are even better than square tables for love and inclusion. For square tables still have sharp edges, beginnings and endings. At a round table however, there are no edges, no beginning and no end: for all is one in the sharing of love. You and I, in this parish, we have too many sharp and rough edges, points of exclusion and division, hardheartedness and lack of Christ-shaped love. So let me conclude by sharing a meditation, appropriately enough from an anonymous source.
Concerning the why and how and what and who of ministry,
one image keeps surfacing:a table that is round.
It will take some sawing to be roundtabled,
some redefining, some redesignin.g
Some redoing and rebirthing of narrowlong Churching
can painful be
for people and tables.
It would mean no daising and throning,
for but one King is there,
and he was a footwasher
at table no less.
And what of narrowlong ministers
when they confront a roundtable people,
after years of working up the table
to finally sit at its head,
only to discover that the table
has turned round?
They must be loved into roundness.
For God has called a people,
not ‘them’ and ‘us’.
‘them and us’ are unable
to gather round.
For at a roundtable there are no sides
and ALL are invited
to wholeness and to food.
At one time
our narrowing churches were built to resemble the cross
but it does no good for buildings to do so
if lives do not.
no preferred seating,
no first and last,
no better, and no corners
for ‘the least of these’.
Roundtabling means being with,
a part of, together and one.
It means room for the Spirit
and gifts, and disturbing profound peace for all.
We can no longer prepare for the past.
We will and must and are called to be Church.
And if he calls for other than roundtable we are bound to follow
leaving behind the sawdust and chips,
designs and redesigns
in search of and in the presence of the Kingdom
that is His and not ours. Amen.
Jo Inkpin for Maundy Thursday, 13 April 2017 @ The Chapel of Holy Spirit, Milton