Table The“a”logy

The Season of Giving “Thanks” is giving way to the Season of Giving Gifts. I wrote this reflection during this time last year upon the realization of the “gift” we all have been given.

A Reflection of Gratitude and Inclusion

The alternative interpretation, of Eucharist as a Sacred Meal, takes all the meals which Jesus shared with his followers – and not merely one – as emblematic of the God who is poured out in generous nourishment for all people, a God we come to know mysteriously yet intimately every time we share food with loved ones. Eucharist is a formal ritual re-enactment of this experience, known to peoples of every age and culture. ~ Diarmud O’Murchu[1]

I spent Thanksgiving 2015 three thousand miles away from my family. My hosts in Scotland prepared a traditional American feast for us travelers with all the “fix’ens” so we would feel at home and not miss our loved ones so much. The table was beautifully set and I was humbled by all the trouble they took to make us feel welcome and restore our anxious souls.

It caused me to pause and think about the Gospel message of Love and acceptance (make that “embrace”) and how it has been taken over by the patriarchal theology of sacrifice and redemption. The table Jesus sat at with his friends enjoying life has been replaced by an altar of sacrifice and death.

Preoccupation with sacrifice has led patriarchal Christianity to an adulterated view of God. Like Abraham on Horeb, the sacrifice of Issac, the destruction of self, becomes an acceptable, even holy, response to a God we do not know well enough to realize that God and creation would never ask such a thing. Endurance, fortitude, and sufferance became the center of the spiritual life, not joy, not holy abandon, not the carnival of goodness everywhere. Gone was the access to the beauty of the Garden, and in its place emerged the fear of the serpent. Gone was the wedding feast at Cana and in its place Golgotha alone.[2]

The first Christians gathered in in ekklesia, or house churches, as they “did not have a system of sacrifices.” They were a “mixture of Jews and gentiles, salves and free persons, males and females. What brought these people together was their experience of a call from God in Christ that transcended their ethnic social and gender differences.”[3] They had no separate buildings in which to celebrate the Eucharist; they simply met in each other’s homes, having learned from Jesus that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular.[4]

An altar separates those elite who are in power or are vested and chosen to perform the ritual from those who observe it.   It reduces those who cannot join to mere spectators of, rather than participants in, the mystery. An altar of sacrifice is meant to impress and intimidate.  Only a select few are valued at the altar. A table is meant to invite and inspire. Everyone is valued at a table. Everyone is sacred. A table unites everyone.

Jesus grew up around Sabbath and Seder tables. He participated in Jewish hospitality and sharing. He often used meals in his ministry to bring people together and used table feasts and banquets in his parables to illustrate his message of all-inclusive love.[5]

Zacchaeus was told to prepare a meal because Jesus and his disciples would be dining with him. Zacchaeus thought as a tax-collector despised by his community, he was unworthy but Jesus didn’t think so. The “New” translation of the patriarchal liturgy has the congregation say: “O Lord I am unworthy for you to enter under my roof. Say but the word and my soul shall be healed.” But Jesus didn’t think of him or any of us as unworthy. In both my Inclusive Catholic Community and Intentional Eucharistic Community we say: “O Lord, YOU make us worthy to receive you; and by your words we are healed.”

Jesus spoke of the ‘table healing’ in the parable of the Prodigal Son where his father has a huge celebratory meal to welcome and restore his errant child home (much to the consternation of his judgmental older brother). On the road to Emmaus the disciples recognize Jesus in the “breaking and sharing of the bread,” not in some ritualized recitation of prescribed words, or symbolized sacrifice. I think Jesus would be recognized at Thanksgiving tables everywhere.

“Why should anyone be deprived of table fellowship, of the sacred meal, and the experience of the Body of Christ?” ~Barbara Fiand, SNDdeN[6]

In his last Seder meal Jesus asked that we do as he did in memory of him: that we live as he did and love as he did. Feminist Thealogy[7]  seeks to remind us once again that ALL were welcome at the Seder meal. No one was turned away. Somehow our male hierarchy has forgotten that and decides who shall partake and whom shall be excluded. Feminist theology includes everyone.

“[W]hen you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14: 13-14

Patristic theology is one of atonement. It has changed the table of nurturing sustenance into an altar of sacrifice. Patriarchal theology asserts that only the son of God could make up to God for the sin of our first parents of turning away from God, thus reducing the Divine Source to a petulant tyrant rather than the life-giving womb of Love.

Folks let’s call things by their names. It’s murder. You did my boy in, and it’s by forgiving you this most deeply rooted sin that I change you forever. So let’s have a party to celebrate till the end of the world your emancipation from hating me and killing one another to disguise this ugly secret. ~ Sebastian More speaking for God[8]

Feminist theology is one of At-One-Ment. It recognizes what we do to each other is what we do to God. Like the Prodigal Son we are reconciled and reunited with each other as family regardless of our background, culture, sexual orientation, religion or even lack thereof; and regardless of our shortcomings!

It is in the context of Jesus’ meals with marginal people as anticipations of the kingdom of God that we should understand the accounts of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as well as the meals shared by the risen Christ with his disciples. . And it is in this context that we should interpret the Last Supper of Jesus as well as the early Christian rite if the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians refers to the Lord’s Supper twice, each time calling the Corinthian Christians to greater communal unity, because of ‘the bread that they share.’ ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one bread, for we all partake of the one bread.’ (10:17).[9]

Rather than focusing on the death of Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, we celebrate “in memory” of his life and teachings, proclaiming that by his example of unconditional love Jesus has restored us and made us whole. It is this restoration we celebrate as “Eucharist—Thanksgiving.” As nourishment for our journey, we take in the body of Christ to become who we already are, the Body of Christ.

“So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice in unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many… Be what you see; receive what you are.”~ St. Augustine

Women sacrifice their bodies in birth.[10] Men sacrifice their bodies in death. It seems to me that our Source of All Life would prefer the former.

When we are at table we “birth” community. We serve each other. We nourish and nurture each other. We become more of what we already are, the Body of Christ. We can let go of our fear and anxiety and embrace love. This is our Eucharist: This is our Thanksgiving, no matter who or where we are!

“The table is the earthly manifestation of God’s presence, the ‘heavenly feast,’ where all are fed and sustained and no one suffers want.” ~ Diana Butler Bass[11]

Thanksgiving literally and figuratively turned into Christmas and I was home with my family. For the first time in over 10 years I was able to have both my daughters with me on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All the superlative adjectives in the dictionary could not describe my feelings at our Christmas table. My grandchildren were giggling. The adults were laughing. The good cheer was overflowing. A Thealogy of Table was spread again before me.

Luke places the birth of Jesus in the most humble of circumstances, a stable surrounded by his family, yet also attended by strangers. But there were really no strangers that night as all of creation became his family including the creatures that surrounded him. I watched my grandchildren play with the animals in the crèche and have them talk to the baby Jesus. My grandson asked, “What does ‘manger’ mean?” I answered that it was where the farm animals ate their meals. He responded: “Oh, they were at their table too.” Out of the mouths of babes… We are called as followers of this child to include all of creation at our table, not sacrifice it to our material or spiritual needs. Feminist thealogy calls us to “immerse ourselves in creation with new respect.”[12]

I watched my family serve each other at table and thought of how, as followers of Jesus, we are called to serve each other, to minister to each other, to “embrace” our relationships with each other and celebrate our interconnectedness just as we celebrate his birth. “The relationship between Christians is to be one pf mutual service, not one of mastery and servitude. At the end of the Gospel of John Jesus tells the disciples that their relationship has now become one of equals.”[13] A table thealogy is one of equals ministering to each other in gladness and joy. It is a sacrament. It is Eucharist.

According to 1 Cor 10:21 the “table of the Lord’ was the Eucharistic table. Table ministry, therefore, was the Eucharistic ministry, which included preparation of a meal, purchase and distribution of food, actual serving during the meal and probably cleaning up afterward. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, (Acts 2:46).[14]

Just as today, most likely it was women then who did the meal preparation, food purchase and distribution, actual serving during the meal and clean-up afterward. Perhaps that is why patriarchal theology ignores or dismisses the table meal as less important than, and subordinate to, a sacrificial altar.  But to me, this nourishment is the most important sign of God’s abiding love. And isn’t this “sign” the actual sacrament?

As we nourish and sustain each other, we enter the “Kin-dom of God — a kindom, if you will, without boundaries. It is about getting into the rhythm of God’s life, i.e., thinking with God instead of thinking for God,”[15] very much different from patriarchal theology of “Kingdom” through which it claims that it alone has the authority to speak about God and for God, the ultimate male monarch.

The Aramaic translation of “the Lord be with you” is “the Lord sustain you.”[16] Table is all about continued sustenance. It doesn’t stop. It’s not a one-off time and space event. It echoes the “rhythm of God’s life” and is everlasting and eternal. Jesus is continually reborn in the stables of our hearts and lives through us and with us on our individual and collective journeys.

Communion is primarily not a thing, however sacred, but an action, in which we are publicly renewing the pledge to make our lives increasingly conformed to the generous, unselfish life of Jesus. That’s what he meant when at the Last Supper on the night before his execution he said, ‘Do this in memory of me.” He said that while he was breaking a loaf of bread and passing it around to his friends at table…The Eucharist — Communion — is food for the journey of life.[17]

We remember that “pledge” every time we share a meal, every time we are at table, whether that table is in a church, or in our home, or in lands far away, because the table is first and foremost in our hearts.

Mary Aktay

Thanksgiving – Christmas 2015

[1] http://www.diarmuid13.com/eucharistic-prayers

[2] Chittister, Joan D. Heart of Flesh, A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men, Wm B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1998, p. 146

[3] Harrington,SJ, Daniel, The Church According to the New Testament, Rowan & Littlefield, Lanham MD (2001) pp 49-50

[4] Karban, Roger, Celebrations, Oct. 2007, http://celebrationpublications.org/amember/ProductFolders/celoct2007/CEL-Oct-2007.pdf

[5] Luke gives great prominence to Jesus’ table ministry: ( 7:36-50, 11:37-52, the kingdom of God 14:1-24)

[6] Fiand SNDdeN, Barbara, On Becoming Who We Are, Crossroads Publishing Co, NY, NY (2013) p.73

[7] Theology means study of God; the word theo is a masculine form.  Some feminists today prefer to speak of study of thea – feminine form – hence thealogy.

http://www.theologynetwork.org/theology-of-everything/getting-stuck-in/an-overview-of-feminist-theology.htm

[8] Moore, Sebastian, The Contagion of Jesus, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, London, (2007) p. 31

[9] Harrington,SJ, Daniel, The Church According to the New Testament, pp 46-47

[10] I am reminded of the beautiful poem by Alla Renée Bozarth https://justicewomen.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/for-mothers-and-others/

Before Jesus Was His Mother

Before Jesus
was his mother.

Before supper
in the upper room,
breakfast in the barn.

Before the Passover Feast,
a feeding trough.
And here, the altar of Earth,
fair linens of hay and seed.

Before his cry,
her cry.
Before his sweat of blood,
her bleeding and tears.
Before his offering,
hers.

Before the breaking of bread and death,
the breaking of her body in birth.

Before the offering of the cup,
the offering of her breast.
Before his blood,
her blood.
And by her body and blood alone,
his body and blood and whole human being.

The wise ones knelt
to hear the woman’s word in wonder.
Holding up her sacred child,
her God in the form of a babe,
she said: “Receive and let your hearts be healed
and your lives he filled with love,
for This is my body,
This is my blood.”

[11] Bass, Diana Butler, Grounded, Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution, HarperOne NY, NY (2015) p. 182

[12] Chittister, Joan D, Heart of Flesh, A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men, p. 167

[13] Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Sexism and God-Talk, Toward a Feminist Theology, Beacon Press, Boston MA (1993) p. 65

[14] Elizabeth Schussler Foirenza describes the deaconate (diakonia) as ‘Serving at Table.’ (Acts 6:2, 16:34 cf Luke 10:40, 12:37, 17:8) Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, Crossroad NY, NY (2005) p.165

[15] Lasch, Kenneth, E. http://fatherlasch.com/article/3454/feast-of-christ-the-king

[16] Levine, Etan,  Analetica Biblica, The Aramaic Version of Ruth, (II 2,3-4) p.68

[17] Rento, Richard G. It’s Not Necessary So, A Senior Priest Separates Faith from Fiction and Makes Sense of Belief,  Caritas Publishing, Theinsville, WI (2016), p.211

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