Rev. Andrew Cunnington
18th April 2019
The Drama of the Table on this Holy Night

What’s it like at St Matthew’s I asked before I came.
Well there are tables everywhere – came the reply.
And I wondered if they would turn out to be tables of welcome or exclusion.

For tables are dangerous things if not used properly
You can bang your head on them if you try to hide underneath.
You can catch yourself on a sharp corner if you are not looking where you are going.
Tables are places where food and drink and feelings can be carelessly spilt.
Tables are places where people can either be left out or room is made to include them
Tables can turn work bench, a desk for learning from, a place where raffle prizes are displayed.

When ever Jesus got himself round a table, things started to happen.
Things that drew some people towards Him. Things that pushed other people away.

The wedding table where water was turned into wine where everyone was amazed.
The table at the home of little Zaccheaus whose whole outlook changed through one tea time invitation and everyone was affronted.
The supper table at the home of Simon – where the woman burst in and anointed his feet in front of all the guests and many were offended.
His visit to Matthew’s tax gathering table groaning with the weight of funds. That anyone would get up from that table to follow Jesus was genuinely surprising.
Out at Emmaus when they only recognised Him when he sat down with them to eat and they were filled with joy.

Tables everywhere not just in the church but in the Gospels from which the church takes its name.
And of course tonight’s table. Right here. At the start of the evening carefully laid out for the familiar Passover meal but ending up in complete chaos.

It wouldn’t have been a table like this – not an altar – nor even the sort of dining table we are familiar with. Nor, I have to say like the one carved in stone behind the high altar.
It would have been a low slung thing – with cushions around the edge so those attending could recline easily and comfortably. Leaning in to one another. Relaxed. Informal.
But round this table on this night – the world of the would be disciple is changed forever.

You could tell something unusual was going to happen – when right at the start Jesus told two of his disciples to go into the village opposite and meet a man carrying a water jar who would take them to the place where preparations would be made.

Men did not carry water jars. That was women’s work in those days. Here was a sign that there already were groups in the city who had taken to heart Jesus’s teaching of a new way of living where everyone was respected each other as equals.

Now you know when you go to a posh meal and there’s a seating plan and you hope you are at the same table as people you will get on with – and not stuck with some bore.

Well, they did that sort of thing in those days. The person who sat to the right of the host – was the guest of honour – and on this night it was that curious character John – the beloved disciple. The one who Jesus loved it says.
Not Peter. Not Matthew. Not James. But John – who – to be honest had contributed very little to the Gospel narrative – yet what he brought to the table was faithfulness and loyalty. He stayed close to Jesus throughout the three years of His ministry.
This quiet unassuming man was the guest of honour. And probably embarrassed at the thought of it.
Not loud. Not exceptionally gifted. But always there for Jesus. As if Jesus is saying – that is all I ask of you. More people like John. People content to lean against the Lord.
So see it like this – the honoured guest – is you. This supper is for you. Each and every time you come.

They had just got settled into their places. They had just started to see Jesus take a cup and mix in the wine and start to say something about how this cup and the bread alongside of it would be his body broken and his blood outpoured out of love for them.
But he could see that they weren’t listening. They were anxious about the night ahead. They were jockeying for position – who was greatest – who was least – why on earth had John been chosen as the guest of honour.

And Jesus had enough. Just as the wine was being poured . He sprang from his feet and began to set out chairs – this was during the supper – was he going into meltdown. Look if you won’t listen – let me show you what I mean.
Strangely, nobody appears to have washed their feet on arrival, only now when the meal was already underway
Forgive me..there probably weren’t chairs at all. He probably just went round the table right where they were. But he certainly called for jugs and basins and towels.
The greatest shall be the least and the servant shall be the master. What sort of Messiah was this who would stoop to the servants role?
And none of them were worthy… Judas’s chair… Peter’s with all his arguing. Matthew still doing a bit of financial consultancy on the side… Mary’s chair… why would you want to say she was not present… Thomas not so sure… Thaddeus a complete and utter wash out… and a chair for John – the ordinary one – see the best seat in the house got out for him.
It was chaos – if we look at our deserving to have our feet washed or our deserving to drink the cup or share the bread – we all fall short… but when Jesus is the host all are invited near and to show that it’s true – He says to all of us… I make you John – the guest of honour.
Their heads spinning – their eyes darting – their hearts on fire – their feet stinging with his cleansing of them.

The meal got back on track after that furious outburst – but none of them said anything now.
They were each as silent as Thaddeus. They received the cup and the bread trembling.
Jesus cut the silence with a knife – one of you is going to betray me…and they were off again, relating everything to themselves rather than to him. Not me Lord. Not me either. Who is it – you ask Him they said to John – I mean if you have a friend in high places – you need to be able to use them don’t you.
The one to whom I offer this piece of bread and like a Sunday morning communicant Judas stretched out his hands.
And after receiving Communion – he stormed off.
And it was night. Suddenly night.
No street lights. No emergency lighting. Them left to understand all that was going on. Who was it who had gone…did you see who it was?
They had to grope their way through the remainder of the meal and out into the darkest night for the steep descent down into the Kidron Valley and all the way to Gethsemane.
There is no more light now… not until Sunday morning… just as the sun rose…!
The daylight fades quickly in the Holy Land.
There is no more talking now. All is reduced to whispers.
There is no more power now – it seemed to have gone out – like a lightbulb exploding.
This supper held in your honour and mine. We are each the guests he sets at his right hand and we see and feel what a dangerous place that can be.
John could not match up anymore than the rest of them. Heavy with sleep in the garden. Unable to stop the lights from the torches and the swords and the staves as they came to take him by force.
Slinking away with the others. The one who Jesus loved was no better than Judas – just an hour or two behind him.

Don’t judge one another my friends – we all fall short – we all desert him…if only for a while.
But tomorrow afternoon when it gets to the cross – he comes back just as you come back.
There is John, guest of honour at the supper – now chief mourner at the burial. At the foot of the cross with Mary. Crumbs from the sacrament still in his beard. Love of Christ still in his heart.
Unable quite to pull away…
And so we come back as he did – in all our inadequacy and wondering – to be fed and to be loved.
And to bring the ravages of a burning cathedral.
Political turmoil and environmental carelessness.
Our own twisting and turning lives – into these events.
And we only dare do this – if we first understand this supper was for us – this cross was for us.
This Saviour is our Saviour. He is forever the host… and you are forever the guest