It doesn’t look like much, does it? Uncomfortable benches, strangers, some odd plants in the window sills.
These were our dinner tables at Iona last month. Two of my colleagues and I led a pilgrimage to Iona, an island off the coast of an island, way out on the western edge of Scotland. The island’s been considered a thin place for centuries–a place where the border between ordinary “reality” and the sacred, underlying reality is so thin it seems to shimmer and at times disappear. Today there’s a Christian organization that hosts visits to the Abbey on the island, and works for the renewal of churches around the world.
We went for a week, and ate all of our meals at these tables. These tables were the centerpiece of our life together. We came together as a community for the week–seekers from South Korea, university students from the south of England, earnest pilgrims from Michigan–all of us broke bread together (and shared a lot of butter) at these tables.
My favorite ritual from the week, and there were many rituals, was pausing at the end of each meal for a moment of silence. We said grace at the beginning of each meal as well. And usually those prayers centered around us having enough to eat and the many who don’t. But at the end of each meal we would pause and simply sit silently for a moment. I don’t know what others reflected on. I sometimes thought about how full I was, how much butter I had just consumed, or what I wanted to do next. But more often than not, before the silence was over, I would have looked at the remains of the bounty we just shared–dirty dishes that we’d soon wash, crusts of bread, empty serving dishes–and realize that in this meal, for these moments, we who were separate had become one. We had taken bread, and tea, and fruits of the earth, and been fed. We had become, together, the body of Christ.
At meals like that I am always thankful that Jesus gave us such a simple, ordinary reminder. Take this bread… drink this cup… We do that every day in one context or another. And whether it is at tables like the ones at Iona, or the table in your house, or a table in Panera or Starbucks, or the table at which a minister stands and reminds us of those words so long ago, doesn’t really, in the end, matter. At all of these tables Christ meets us and says, I am here. Do you see me? Get up from this table, and go into the world. Come, and follow me.