Over the past six weeks, we have been engaging in a sermon series focused on the table. As I have mentioned a few times, and as probably won’t be a surprise, communion and the community that is formed and sustained in the meal we share here together, is at the core of my theology. During this Lenten season, we have looked at who is welcome at the table and what happens here, as well as seen a woman who was told her place was under the table with the dogs and a woman who scandalized the community by daring to anoint Jesus while he was at the table.
This table, which has been prepared for us, is a table of hope and bears reflections of the table that is prepared for us in the coming Kingdom of God.
But this is no ordinary table. The tables of the world are of a different type. The tables of humanity are places where we gather for meals, for meetings, for learning and for teaching, and for so much more. In any institution or organization, particularly in the political realm, it is common to hear the table spoken of as the place “where all the decisions are made. Gatekeepers surround it, all reading the same books, spouting the same talking points, quoting each other back and forth, vilifying or mocking their straw men and women. It’s the Table where coalitions and councils metaphorically sit in swivel chairs to discuss who is in and who is out, who is right (usually each other) and who is wrong (everyone else)” (Bessey).
At those tables, people are constantly fighting for a seat, to have a voice, to be heard, to sway opinions…
But this Table, this place, is where politics and power are abolished; where there is only one gatekeeper, and he says, every time, there is room! There is room enough! There is plenty of room! All are welcome! Here you are fed and nourished in your spiritual lives!
I have been thinking this week of a story I once heard:
A man had a dream where someone from his past, long dead, came and took him on a journey to Hell. There he saw an enormous, glamorous feast spread out on a long table. Seated all around were all the souls of the dead. Everyone looked gaunt and weak from starvation. Upon closer reflection, he noticed that everyone around the table had arms that were locked at the elbow so that they could not bend their arms. Try as they might, they could not feed themselves. “Truly, this is a terrible place,” he said.
His guide then took him to Heaven, where he saw a very similar scene: an enormous, glamorous feast was laid out on a long table with the souls of the dead seated around. These, too, had arms that were locked at the elbow, unable to bend their arms. Yet everyone around this table looked healthy and happy.
“How are these able to be fed and happy if they are afflicted just as those in Hell?” he asked.
His guide motioned him closer and he was able to see that instead of struggling to feed themselves, every member of the table fed their neighbor, and in such a manner, all were fed.
This morning, we awoke with these two women to a new and changed world. “We tend to assume that when the women came to the tomb, they were completely unprepared for what they encountered. But this isn’t the way Matthew tells the story. In fact, Matthew takes great pains to suggest that the women are waiting and watching with a sense of anticipation. The surprise may be for us: that all of a sudden we have been invited to follow these women from the cross to the tomb- women who, up until a few verses earlier, have been both silent and unseen” (Hearon, emphasis mine).
These women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, are described as having followed Jesus from Galilee. Now we are familiar with Mary Magdalene, and the rumors about who she might have been before her encounter with Jesus, but this “other” Mary could be anyone. It could be his mother, now the mother of James, or simply another follower. Whoever she is, these women “are not latter-day tagalongs. They have been intimately bound to Jesus, from the very first days in Galilee, and in following him have pursued the path of discipleship that Jesus himself models” (Hearon).
Matthew’s gospel is unique in the Synoptics, because unlike “Mark or Luke, where the women come to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus,” here “In Matthew, they do not bring spices but come to see, a verb that means not only to perceive visually but also to gain understanding. When the women approach the tomb then, it is with a sense of anticipation, of expectation even. If they have followed Jesus from Galilee and ‘provided’ for him, they have surely also heard him say that he will die and that he will be raised on the third day” (Hearon).
We too, come with that same expectation. But this morning, I want to invite us to recapture some of that first Easter energy that seems to have been tempered by two thousand years of retelling.
Picture it: we have followed this teacher for three years around the Judean countryside, listening to him teach, watching him heal, moving with him from place to place as his movement of justice, peace, and hope grows and grows. He has told us, many times, how he would die, but how he would then rise again after three days.
So it’s three days later. We probably haven’t slept much since Friday. The tears probably haven’t dried from our faces yet. Our eyes are still stained red from crying. Yet it isn’t the sleeplessness of grief that kept us awake last night. It is the sleeplessness of hope; of expectation; of the dream of a world radically changed.
As we approach the tomb, our hope is likely weakened a bit thinking about that massive stone. The fear in the pit of our stomach screams out to us, “What if it hasn’t happened? What if it wasn’t true?” But we push on anyway.
And then the earth shakes, an angel descends, and the stone is rolled away. “The guards, posted in front of the tomb, clearly are not expecting this and fall to the earth as if they were dead. There is no small amount of irony in this: the living become as the dead, while the dead are revealed to be living. Unlike the guards, the women don’t faint. Instead, they hear the angel tell them that Jesus who was crucified has been raised, as he said” (Hearon).
This isn’t a movement from sorrow to joy, but “a movement from anticipation, expectation even, to understanding arising from what they have both heard and seen. The women have come to the tomb to see and now they know” (Hearon). And now, we know.
It is interesting that throughout this story, we never once hear from the women, though they are the ones driving the narrative. “The emphasis, rather, is on what the women do. They follow, they provide, they watch, and they wait, and they go in order to see. And when they are told to go tell the disciples, wherever they have been hiding, that they must go back to Galilee where they will see Jesus, the women depart quickly to carry out the task. There is something refreshing in this.” It shouldn’t surprise us “at all that the women are likened to those who tend the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the sick, those in prison, without necessarily recognizing that in doing so they have provided for Jesus. They are women who, filled with anticipation, have come to the tomb to discover what is next and to do it” (Hearon).
In a similar manner, we are invited to come to the table this morning, in anticipation and expectation, that we might gain understanding, and discover what is next. This morning, as we approach the table, we are, in essence, approaching the tomb. Is the stone rolled away, that is, the stone of our fears and doubts? Is the tomb still occupied, that is, occupied by all of the weight of our sins and distractions?
Or do we find a changed world? Do we, instead of finding more fear and anxiety, find a place of hope, of welcome, of wholeness, of life?
It is here that all are fed because we feed each other, and God feeds us all. It is here that God’s kingdom is made visible in the unity and community of Christ.
Come to this table, for it is not a table of the world where reputations are built and destroyed; where relationships are contingent upon successes and failures.
This is the table of the kingdom. Taste and see. Let your anticipation and excitement lead you here. Seek and know.
Come. For all things are now ready. Amen.
Bessey, Sarah. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women: Exploring God’s Radical Notion That Women Are People, Too. New York: Howard, 2013. 3. Print.
Hearon, Holly. “Commentary on Matthew 28:1-10.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary, 5 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.