Crowded Tables

By Tom Lawson

One thing Americans traveling in the United Kingdom will notice almost immediately involves what people call “personal space.” Houses are smaller. Automobiles are smaller. City streets are smaller. People simply live closer together.

Nowhere is this more evident, or more awkward, than when eating lunch in a sidewalk cafe or British pub. Do not expect to eat alone. Even if you are by yourself, you will not be eating alone. The American custom of devoting an entire table to a group, or even a single person, is simply ignored. If there are empty places, don’t be surprised to look up and see them filled.

49_meditation_JNFor me, this is an uncomfortable arrangement. I look up and see strangers sitting at my table. Some clearly are of Indian ancestry, some British, some African, and all of them are enjoying fish and chips or bangers (sausages) and beans, happily oblivious to my discomfort. I try and remember to turn my fork upside-down and put it in my left hand before they notice I’m a Yank. I mean, who invited them to my table?

Admittedly, the table isn’t really mine. It belongs to the local owner. Even more alarming, I have to acknowledge that my tablemates probably eat here often, while I’m only a visitor. In fact, it isn’t even my country. My passport needs to have a stamp on it giving me permission to stay here for awhile, even as it demonstrates that I have no natural or automatic right to be here. To be eating here. To be sitting next to Abdul or Alfred or Abeeku.

It dawns on me that, in reality, these chaps are letting me sit with them at their table, in their town, in their country.

The table we come to for the Lord’s Supper is never an American table. It is never our table. And, it is never an empty table. Here the poor crowd in next to the rich, white pass the plate to black, and a myriad of languages and cultures jostle shoulder to shoulder, to share in that one spiritual food and one spiritual drink.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The table is about coming to Christ, certainly. But it is also about coming together. It is about a community, a living body of believers from every tribe, tongue, race, and nation coming together at the same table to share in the same meal at the invitation of the same King.

And, like my experiences in England, we must acknowledge that none of us by place of birth or ethnicity or language or wealth or power has any natural right to be here. We are all, in a sense, strangers “who . . . have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

The Lord’s Supper is, in part, a frequent reminder that the church is called upon to be a radical movement of united diversity creating genuine community throughout a world with more walls than bridges. “Excuse me, Cheng-Wang, but do you mind passing me some of that bread?”

Tom Lawson teaches at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri.

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