This summer, while my friends were busy being camp counselors, interning with successful companies, and saving orphans, I built a coffee table with my mom…..and LOVED it. Most moms would probably choose a spa day or some retail therapy for stress relief, but when my family hears the miter saw raging from the back porch space turned fully functional wood shop, we know that she’s “unwinding” in her own way. That’s just the heart of who she is—a consistently hard worker and daily washer of feet. Building this table with her was special because I knew that it would be the focal point of many living room gatherings throughout my final lap of undergrad. Tables are the “center of gravity” in a room; It’s crazy how four legs and a flat surface can unite a group of people.
What was most significant to me about this project, however, was knowing that my mom is the person who has taught me more than anyone about what it looks like to welcome neighbors and foreigners alike to the table. I saw biblical hospitality in piles of shoes at the front door, whether owned by friends, local college students, former drug addicts, church members, or foreign exchange students, and learned that the wider we open our doors, the more these titles blend into a shared familial identity. This coffee table is symbolic to me, a reminder that the simple gospel can unfold in our homes, just as it did in mine through my parents’ hospitality.
Our world is absolutely starved for community. Some of us have come from broken homes, but we are all broken people who deeply desire to be known, seen, and heard by those around us. Proximity, therefore, is powerful, and I believe that tables can be sacred instruments for storytelling and fellowship.
I find it fascinating that the church began at the table. Contrary to the stage-oriented structure of our sanctuaries or auditoriums today, the first recorded church meetings began in circular seating in homes with breaking of bread (Acts 1:12-14)!! Meal sharing was commonplace, but Jesus modeled it in countercultural ways. This plays out in Matthew 9:10-17, where we see him being hosted at Matthew’s house. Before becoming a disciple, Matthew had been a tax collector, so naturally, his friend group was made up of “tax collectors and sinners” who joined them at the table. Tax collectors had a reputation throughout Israel for being thieves, scam artists, and oppressors. It made no sense for a Jewish Rabbi to recline at the table with these types of people, but Jesus never questioned reaching out, whether to Samaritans, widows, lepers, or prostitutes, often sharing meals with them.
This ran against the grain of Jewish culture because table eating was all about status. Dining rooms were a visual representation of affluence and seating was hierarchical, with each couch around the table designated according to societal position. The wealthy would eat reclining on couches, or Tricliniums, that surrounded the table. Typically, only men would sit and slaves would eat standing up. In spite of these expectations, Jesus cared nothing about who sat at the places of honor, but inviting those on the outskirts of society into the kingdom of God was everything to him (Luke 9:46-48; 14:12-14!!) He praised the “sinful woman” who interrupted his dinner with a Pharisee to tearfully wash his feet (Luke 7:36-50) and praised Mary for sitting at his feet to listen to him (Luke 10:38-42). Imagine how confused his disciples must have been when he washed their feet (John 13:1-17).
Who sits at my table and whose feet am I kneeling to wash? Do they all look, behave, and think like me? Jesus had a diverse inner circle; We have something to learn from everyone. I love sitting in circles because they level us; We take a look around and realize that we’re just imperfect human beings taking a shot at communion before a perfect God. Where we choose to be vulnerable, it will get messy, but this is also where it gets beautiful. Jesus set his table with placemats of grace and truth and it freed people.
We’ll never be the answer to the loneliness and struggle of our brothers and sisters, but we can nudge one another toward Christ, living as a people who know that they are already fully known and loved by God in Him. When we are gracious and truthful in our communities, we’re allowing room for Christ to do his freeing work.
I’ve been tempted to get up and run from the table because of disagreement, dislike, and discomfort, but God has called me to stay. He’s asking me to die to myself and stay—over and over again.
Lean in, not away, and dare to linger at the table. Relentlessly ask questions and listen to understand rather than to speak. How can I be so territorial about my table when the God of the universe has prepared a seat at his table for even me, a sinner? In radical hospitality, he has called us to dwell in his house in worship. What would happen if we made our kitchen tables our tabernacles??
Psalm 23:5 // You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.