Known at the Table

Known at the Table

How do you know who’s in your inner circle? It’s the people you don’t clean up for before they come over.

Who fills in the blank:  “The house is a mess, but it’s okay, it’s just ________________.” It sounds like an insult, but it’s really an incredible compliment.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Dude, the house is always a mess. I don’t clean up for anybody.” Even so, there are probably levels of guilt associated with some people seeing your house that way, while others make themselves at home in it. I think this is still the test:  who are we okay with seeing our mess?

When Jesus is risen in Luke’s gospel, the very next story is of two disciples on the road to a place called Emmaus. The resurrected Christ comes alongside them, but they don’t recognize him. And after a long conversation on a seven mile walk, the two come to the place where they’re staying. Jesus does the “I’ll pretend I’m going on ahead” move, which causes the disciples to urge him to stay with them. It’s actually an ancient near eastern custom for a guest to refuse the first invite, which I’m sure created some awkward situations (“Stay and eat with us.” “Oh, I really shouldn’t…” “Oh, that’s too bad. Well, see you later!”).

They’ve been on this journey, and it would be easy for them to do that. They’re tired and they probably haven’t been home for a few days. It would be easy for them to say, “We’d love for you to come in, but the place is a mess,” whether it’s true or not. But they invite him in anyway.

When they go inside, they break bread together. And Jesus does something familiar:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. – Luke 24:30-31 (NRSV)

These are the communion verbs: take, bless, break, give (they’re also present at the feeding of the five thousand). And it is in this that the resurrected Christ is made known to these followers. Not on the road, but at the table.

But Jesus never gets to the table if we don’t invite him in to our mess.

I get this backward a lot. But it is a dangerous thing to believe we have to clean something up before we can invite God in. When I am tempted to believe I have to fix it, I have to clean it up, then God can do x, y, or z in my life, I find myself keeping Christ at arm’s length, simultaneously acknowledging the house is messy but too embarrassed to invite him in.

And I also know this:  the house will get messy again, and probably soon. Mess multiplies. We have to believe grace does too.

If you think it has to be better before you let Jesus in, he’ll never get the invitation. Christ isn’t just here for our mess, he’s here in our mess. What if we could be people who were better at believing, “The house is a mess, but it’s okay, it’s just Jesus”? What if instead of believing parts of our lives aren’t in good enough order to invite him in, we were better at realizing that he makes himself at home with us as we are?

Because I think this is how we’re supposed to go out too.

The two travelers make the seven mile journey back to Jerusalem, carrying the news of resurrection. When they arrive and find the other disciples gathered together, they tell them Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread at the table. In that moment Jesus appears among them, again revealing himself in an intimate setting.

Verse 41 tells us the disciples experienced joy, disbelief, and wonder. The simultaneous presence of all three in the face of a resurrected Christ they don’t just see with their own eyes but touch with their own hands. Their theology is a little messy.

And what does Jesus say in this moment? “Until you get rid of that disbelief, I can’t use you”? “Until it’s only joy and none of the other, you’re not fit for the kingdom”? “Until you don’t need something so tangible to believe, you don’t really have faith”? Nope. Instead, freshly resurrected and in the midst of his friends in an intimate setting:

 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is hungry.

(Incidentally, they give Jesus broiled fish. Isn’t this disappointing? He died for our sins and broiled fish is the best we can do?)

How else can you tell who’s in your inner circle? It’s the people who can come in your house and ask for food and you don’t think it’s weird. They just open the fridge. They make themselves at home. If you watch Seinfeld, notice that it’s not just Kramer (the weird one) who opens Jerry’s fridge without asking. Elaine and George do it all the time too. That’s Jerry’s inner circle.

Once again, Jesus is known to them at the table. He makes himself at home. In their external mess, in their theological mess, he’s just with them. He’s at home.

How does the story end?

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” – Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV)

Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. This is the good news. This is what it’s all about.

And who’s going to tell them that? We are.

Messy people carry this message. Not shiny people, perfect people, squeaky clean people. The message is at its best when it is shared not from a fixed person to a not fixed person, but from a person who believes they are messy and forgiven to someone for whom that would be good news.

When we picture talking about about Jesus, we often drift to awkward conversations and the doorbells of strangers who aren’t going to invite us in. But the reality of resurrection is known best at the table. Some of the best theological conversations I’ve had in my life took place at a Waffle House at 3 AM; no one fixed is hanging out at that hour.

We are messy, forgiven people. And other messy people need to hear it.

If we keep waiting until we’re more clean, we’ll never invite him in. We’ll have a Savior we believe in but never really get to know. And we’ll never be able to share with people in language they can really believe in because they’ll be hearing it from someone who thinks they have to clean it up more on their own, instead of someone just as messy as them.

When we celebrate communion in the United Methodist Church, we offer this invitation:

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.

The table is for those who love God, need grace, and desire peace. And this is the invitation we want to give others. Messy, forgiven people who can tell other messy people that there is a God who makes himself at home in our lives.