Years ago, a friend, while on a visit to Greece, and at my request, went to the Greek Orthodox church to ask the priest if she could buy a communion bread press for me. In Greek, the bread press, “sphragis,” (sfra-geese) means “seal” – a seal that authenticates. The sphragis is a beautifully hand-carved piece of solid beech wood. In Orthodox liturgy, it is stamped on the communion bread, the “prosfora”, before baking.
To her surprise, the priest in a wonderful gesture of hospitality invited her, a welcomed stranger, to dinner in his home and around his table.
To her surprise, the priest in a wonderful gesture of hospitality, invited her, a welcomed stranger, to dinner in his home around his table. He served her, and offered her nourishment, kindness, friendship, conversation, and compassion. Mostly he offered her his presence. (After returning home, she said that dinner was her favorite part of her trip…more than the magnificent, ancient architectures of Greece.) At the end of the meal, he generously gifted the bread press to her. She, then, brought it back to me.
We see another table: Just hours before his crucifixion, Jesus invited his friends to a table. (I am not sure I would have spent my last hours sharing a meal.) Jesus understood the power of a table; things happen there that don’t happen anywhere else. Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet, and offered them a space to be nourished and refreshment. For the first time, he called them friends. They engaged in a conversation that would be the last they shared with their Savior. It was here Jesus instituted a new commandment only second to the Great Commandment; to love one another. This table, around which his disciples had gathered, has come to be known as the Last Supper. This final meal became a pivotal place of divine presence and gracious transformation which the disciples would need in the days ahead. This table had the power to shape their lives and architect their movements for living in a new kingdom in a hostile culture.
This table had the power to shape their lives and architect their movements for living in a new kingdom in a hostile culture.
Yet, there is another table of which most of us are familiar: The Communion Table, or The Lord’s Table. It’s really a re-enactment of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples. This table has become one of the two great sacraments of the Church. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that Jesus did not leave us with a dogma, creed, or a cause, but a table. Remarkably, this table is made up of ordinary things; a cup and some bread, perhaps reminding us that our spirituality is always grounded in the stuff of everyday life.
I’ve always intrigued by the fact that Jesus did not leave us with a dogma, creed, or a cause, but a table.
At this table, we are invited to remember no only the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, but what it accomplished, not in just an eternal way, but for our lives today. The cross reminds us Jesus’ presence is available in our day-to-day lives offering forgiveness, grace, mercy, help, healing, and wholeness. What happened then, matters for now. Our salvation was not just a past event, but daily we are being saved.
Whenever I have the privilege of serving communion, part of my tradition while I am kneading the dough, is I pray for and bless those who are receiving the communion elements. I pray for a real sense of God’s presence that would permeate their souls. I pray for their hearts to be open to a fresh work of grace at this table. (One of the biggest challenges of the spiritual life is to always see what is familiar with new eyes.) What an honor to serve others in this way When I am done praying, I stamp the bread with the sphragis. The sphragis is covered with Greek words and symbols. The center of the seal has ICXC NIKA carved into it, which means, “Jesus Christ Victorious.” It seems so fitting to me that those triumphant words are stamped on risen bread.
Part of my tradition while I am kneading the dough, is I pray for and bless those who are receiving the communion elements.
Yet, there is one more table. As we leave the communion table to our homes, we are sent to a world that needs a table. We have now become the hosts. We now serve and invite the stranger into friendship, with acts of kindness and mercy, not by argument or hostility. Inviting others into our lives, being graciiously present, and listening with compassion, can be one of the most spiritual and loving things you can do. In a culture that has lost sense of a greater story of redemption and a love that transcends difference, and division, we offer safety and rest from a disenchanted world.
Perhpas, “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes” is best expressed in the hard work of loving our neighbor.
This is the Church’s finest hour. May at this table…our hearts have been prepared for this cultural moment.