For My Children
“A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many;
…but they all alike began to make excuses.” Lk 14:16-18
With a simple story, our Lord revealed the sacred purpose of his life: to prepare a table at the center of human history and to invite the peoples of earth to come to the table to experience the hospitality of God. The gift of a table ~ with its sacred mystery ~ was intended to be a way of cultivating the spiritual nature of humanity and of being in spiritual communion with God as the Heavenly Father of us all.
So it was that he prepared a table in the presence of his enemies in an Upper Room; and with his own Last Supper he invited all peoples in every age to come to the Family Table of God.
A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many he said, and that invitation excludes no one. Those words were his own autobiography in a single sentence: he came to invite the whole world to come together as a family for God around a common table where they could experience family life with God.
But they all alike began to make excuses, he added; and there in a single phrase is the sadness of heaven at earth’s response: for we prefer to realign our priorities ~ to obsess about things that ultimately are of little consequence, and to ignore at our own peril the things that matter most. It is such a short parable, yet for all its brevity it contains the fullness of divine hospitality and at once the tragedy of human indifference.
Among the many things we have lost in America is the family dinner table. It used to be central to American life. There was a time when families gathered at the end of the day to share the experiences that life had brought to each member. It was unique because the family meal brought generations together. Dinner time was a place where issues were faced together, problems were solved with each other’s help, and values ~ family values ~ were reinforced and bequeathed to children with love and encouragement.
I am, indeed nostalgic and longing for a bygone era? The family table experience used to be a place where the aroma of a home-cooked meal became the fragrance of family life, and where the food enabled us to taste the love that had prepared it. Mealtime about a family table was also spiritual experience, for we not only cultivated the spirit of family there, but it was there that we paused to recognize God as the unseen guest at our meal, and practiced the art of giving thanks.
Well, then came TV dinners and fast food joints, and family schedules that kept us all apart. The microwave with its convenience replaced the oven with its aroma, and Me-generations that put self in a different orbit from family life. Taking meals on the run or in front of a television replaced quiet conversations and family intimacy.
As a parent of three, I felt as though I had to fight for my family against a culture that seemed determined to pull us apart; and so one day I laid down the law (known to this day as Hodgson’s Law): Dinner time is family time and it is not optional! (I wanted to make it the eleventh commandment, but there was no room left on those two tablets of stone!). We were all free to go wherever life called us to be, but dinner time was family time and it was R-E-Q-U-I-R-E-D!
Oh, we obviously had to make some exceptions along the way, but we all understood the spirit of the law. It was there that we practiced the art of parent/child communication; and it was there that we learned to see the world, and ourselves, through each other’s eyes.
At the family table I learned that the world had changed for children since I was one of them, and it was through my children that I could reach out and touch a generation other than my own. The family table was the only place where we all prayed together, except for church, and that fact alone made home a personal family sanctuary.
My children know me well ~ my mind, my heart, and my soul: and I have come to understand that this was not accomplished by any sermon they may have heard me preach, but by the quality of family life that we shared around a common table. If America is fortunate enough to be granted by God a second chance at greatness, at the heart of her rebirth will be a revival of family life around the table that our Lord left behind.
Prophetic insight is a mystery to be sure, but Isaiah sensed that God was getting ready to prepare a great banquet in order to invite the peoples of the world to gather together as a family. He missed the obvious ~ that God would use the Passover Table as the place of World Communion; but in the Old Testament lesson he clearly caught a glimpse of the lavishness of divine nurture, and the salvation that would come of it.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast…(He got the place right, for the Upper Room was atop the holiest of mountains.) …a feast of rich food for all peoples… (He clearly understood that all humanity was about to be embraced by the family love of God.). And then those immortal images of the Sovereign Lord who would swallow up death forever, and the joyful refrain that would echo down through the ages emboldened by an Easter Morn: Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
And so it is with excitement that we gather at the Table of the Lord, to receive the invitation for us all to gather together on World Communion Sunday, and to live as the Family of God One of my favorite popular singers is Neil Diamond. There is something about the rustic sound of his voice and the haunting images he uses to think with that speaks to something unquenchable in me. (That’s really all I’ve been able to figure out about that.)
He wrote and recorded a song entitled Morningside. He says that it is a fantasy, that it is only a dream, but the dream he describes is so close to reality for me that my soul pays rapt attention.
Morningside tells the story of an old man who dies and leaves a table behind. With poetic images folded in upon each other, he sings of his passing, and of a table made with nails and pride, and with his hands he carved there words inside: “For my children.” It was, you see, a table around which his children would gather to experience the fullness of family life ~ its nourishment and its memories.
And the legs were shaped with his hands, he sings on, and the top was made with oaken wood. (And then, in remembrance) And the children sat around this table and touched it with their laughter. Ah, (he sighs in song) and that was good!
Yet it is a sad song, for it goes on to tell how the old man died alone, and no one cried, they simply turned away. And here’s the tragedy: none of his children wanted the table, for the song ends with the words: For not a child would claim the gift he had. The words he carved became his epitaph ~ “For my children.”
On this table ~ the one our Lord left behind ~ we often carve the words he spoke: In Remembrance of Me. But I suspect if we looked inside ~ if we looked inside the mystery of this table ~ we too would find the inscription written with Spirit Hand: For My Children.
World Communion 2021
Peoria Presbyterian Church
October 3, 2021