Gathering around God’s table

A sermon on 1 Kings 19.4-8 and John 6.35,41-51.

I want us to think this morning about family meals. Perhaps you have particular memories of a family meal, of gathering around a table? It could be your own family, another family who welcomed you in, or friends you think of as family. It could be an everyday meal, or a special occasion.

When I was a child, family meals were quite something. We would gather around my Granny’s big round dining table, cousins and aunts and uncles, all squidged in on every available chair, and yet somehow there was always room for one more. They were noisy occasions, everyone talking at once, laughing, arguing, teasing each other, and telling the same old family stories and following the same old family traditions that join us together.

Today we are gathered as a family around a table. But we are family not because we are related to each other, but because we are, as we will say shortly, “children of the same heavenly father”. Today we welcome Rupert into the family of the church. He already had a wonderful, loving family who have brought him here today. Now he gains an extended family, and as part of the baptism liturgy we will all promise to support him on his journey of faith, and to help him to live and grow within God’s family.

Those promises apply to all our relationships with each other. We are called as a church to live interdependently. We are dependent first and foremost on the grace and love of God, but we also depend on each other, and we are called to love and care for each other.

As we gather at this table, for the particular family meal that is the Eucharist, we must look not only inwards to the family of the church, but also outwards. God’s family is a family without limits, unbounded by convention or space or time. At God’s table there is always “room for another one”, room for all the “other” ones, room for all who choose to come.

And the communion we share is more than a meal. We are fed for a purpose. “Get up and eat,” the angel tells Elijah, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” We too are on a journey with God, and like Elijah we must eat what God provides for us, in order to be ready for the journey on which God calls us. We are fed for a purpose, to give us what we need in order to live as the body of Christ, to be Christ’s hands and feet and voice in the world.

As we draw near to Jesus, as we gather around the table, we also draw near to each other. And as we draw near to each other, to all the “others” we might rather keep at arms length, we realise that we really do have more in common than we thought, certainly far more in common than divides us. Like any family, we are not the same. We are marvellously and beautifully different, each created and loved by God, displaying the glorious diversity of the body of Christ. But we are created for the common purpose of living a life rooted in God, following Jesus, transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The communion we share is very much more than a meal. It is the means by which we are transformed. Transformed by the grace of God from a mixed-up bunch of ordinary people, into the body of Christ in the world. Transformed in order to transform the world, in order to share with everyone the absolute, transforming, redemptive, healing, restoring love of God, by every word and action and prayer.

That transformation which we find in Jesus the Bread of Life, as we receive him in the bread and wine of communion, is an ongoing process, a lifelong journey of transformation. In baptism, Rupert begins that journey today. But all of us are invited to join in the promises, to renew our own commitment to living a transformed and transforming life in Christ.

May God give to each of us grace to live fully as the people God calls us to be, to recognise the face of Christ in all with whom we gather around the table, and to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. Amen.