For all their capacity to bring joy and fellowship, some meals are just . . . hard. My grandfather died in late February, and the first holiday meal we ate without him was like that. No one wanted to sit in his chair at first, and when it came time for the prayer it was finally my dad cleared his throat and took up the mantle.
Some meals are just hard, painful and difficult. Sometimes it is the empty chair at the table, when someone’s absence due to death, divorce, division or distraction, feels more poignant than their presence that you once took for granted. Sometimes it is the presence of clear tension between two who dine together, with the bitter taste of hateful sentiments flung under thinly veiled guises. Or maybe the disputes and disagreements are unacknowledged, but still manage to pull up a chair and elbow their way in. Perhaps those who gather are themselves intact, but nevertheless weighed down with events outside their control. At meals like these, we are reminded quite clearly that the bread is not the only thing that is broken.
Our Lord knew such a meal, the meal at which he instituted the communion we now celebrate. The tension-building events of the past week in Jerusalem were filled with predictions and warnings of what would take place. And at the table, Jesus’ claim that one of them would be betray him was met with a lie on Judas’s part, and unduly confident denials on the part of the others. Whatever the disciples knew, Christ was well aware of the heaviness of the moment and the significance of the meal.
The Lord, the traitor, the overzealous, the weak, and the confused gather to eat the Passover meal. “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body.”
At the table, in this meal, Jesus promises what the cross accomplishes. The hour of darkness is still to come, and the road to Golgotha is paved with betrayals both small and large. But even for those who would fall asleep in his hour of trial, for those who would deny three times that they knew him, for those who would doubt even upon seeing his risen body --- even for such as these Jesus offers the blood of his covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
“Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
Here, even in the midst of the word of the cross, there is the kernel of promise that something, impossibly, lies beyond that. For he promises a day at which he will dine with his followers once again in the Father’s kingdom, a common meal that only something the magnitude of a resurrection could bring to pass. And at the banquet at the end of all things, all of the hard and painful things in our common meals here will come untrue.
Though some tables are difficult, other tables remain the site of holy moments and joyful reunions, laden with cherished relationships, special china, joyful love, and family recipes. But the best of every memorable meal we have ever known is still only a foretaste of what awaits us in the kingdom to come. This Easter, may the Resurrected Christ be present at your meal, with the promise of peace through brokenness and life beyond death.
Written by Amanda Pittman and shared at the Cole Mill Road Church of Christ, Durham, NC, in March of 2014.