“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)
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 stranger, to dinner in his home around his table. He served her and he 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 architecture of Greece.) At the end of the meal, he generously gifted the bread press to her. She, then, gifted it back to me.
My friend’s shared-table with a generous host reminds me of 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 on earth sharing a meal.) I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that Jesus did not leave us with a dogma, creed, or a cause, but a table. I think Jesus understood…things happen around a table that do not happen anywhere else.
Jesus first served his disciples by washing their feet, and then offered them a space to be nourished and refreshed. 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 promise which the disciples would need in the days ahead. This table also had the power to shape their lives and architect their movements for living in a new kingdom in an inhospitable world.
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 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.) 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.
Yet, there is one more table. As we leave the communion table to go 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. In a culture of isolation and loneliness, inviting others into our lives, being graciously present, and listening with compassion, can be one of the most spiritual and loving things you can do.
Perhaps, every time we offer others such a table, the gracious work of loving our neighbor best expresses how we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).
What about the “table” sounds inviting?
What does “being the host” in our culture mean to you?
What would “Jesus Christ, Victorious” look like in you life?