The Lord's Table: A Maundy Thursday Meditation by the Rev. Jeff Kellam

Scripture can be found here .

At the Church of the Resurrection in Amsterdam,

there is a wonderful setting for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

The Communion table looks much like what we would call a picnic table.

That is, it is a long flat table with benches on each side, and at each end of the table.

The table is set with a cloth, two candles, a pitcher and chalice, and plates for bread.

When it is time for the sacrament,

the people come forward, sit on the benches that surround the table,

and they serve one another the bread and the wine.

I don’t know what they call that method in Holland,

but here, we would call it “family style.”


And what an appropriate design for the chancel of that church.

What an appropriate setting for the Supper:

The family gathered ‘round, and serving one another.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus had that in mind

as he gathered the disciples for that one last meal together.


As we come to the Lord’s table,

let us first consider that it is the Lord who invites and gathers us.

Luke tells us that Jesus says to his friends,

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...”

Jesus has known the spiritual value of balancing solitude and community.

He knows the importance of being alone in prayer and meditation.

He has found great strength in lonely places and wilderness retreats.

But he also knows the meaning of community,

and he has yearned for this time of fellowship and prayer,

this Passover remembrance and its table ritual,

and Jesus had sent his disciples in search of a large room

that would accommodate a community of followers.


Someone has said that sharing a meal together

is one of the most intimate and sacred human events.  

“Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.”       

[Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey]

For many families, the custom is to hold hands while saying grace or asking the blessing.

Then that prayer of thanksgiving comes from one heart,

the heart of the family or the community of friends.

As Paul looked back at this last supper,

he wrote for all in the future who would break bread around a table like this one:

“Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body,

for we all partake of the one loaf.”                (I Cor. 10:17)

As the reenactment of the Passover meal made the Jewish family one

with every other family sharing in that ritual,

so Jesus intends this meal to unite all who partake in it.

By sharing in his words, breaking the bread, and drinking the cup,

it is as if we were holding hands around the table

with all who gather on this Holy Thursday night around the world

who also say the words, break the bread, and drink the wine.


William Willimon tells of what was to be a quick visit

to the home of one of his elderly parishioners,

a Mrs. Smith who had lived alone “since the war” when her husband had died.

As he settled into an armchair, Mrs. Smith announced to him, “You’ll be staying for lunch.”

Willimon offered a protest that listed all the reasons he could not.

Office work, sermon preparation, a bulletin to print.

“Everyone has to eat; I’ll get the table ready,” she said.


And she set the table.

From the china cabinet, crystal glasses, the good plates and platters,

the linen, the candles, the silver.

Willimon was glancing at his watch  when Mrs. Smith said he should make himself comfortable

while she went into the kitchen for a few minutes.

He says that she went into the “holy of holies” to concoct the meal,

and he could hear and smell the mysteries of that room,

biscuits rising, ham sizzling, ice cubes tinkling into glasses.


Then, her announcement that he would stay for lunch turned into an invitation.

“Won’t you come to the table now?”

The preacher offered thanks, and the two began to eat.

As he was about to compliment her on the meal,

she said, “I never feel alone in my house except at mealtimes.

Mr. Smith (as she referred to her husband) said that when we invited company for dinner —

which we did nearly every other night —

‘The Lord never intended us to eat by ourselves.’”

Those words turned what had seemed an imposition in the mind of a busy pastor

into a sacred time shared with a friend at table.


In coming to the table, we come together as one family.

Jesus yearns to be with his disciples for this meal,

and even now, so long removed from that night of betrayal,

we believe Jesus still yearns for us to gather as one in his name

and remember that night, that meal, those words ...

but mostly, to remember him.

His body given to make us one body of believers.

His life blood given to make us one blood, one family, forgiven, reconciled, and reborn.


That night as Jesus went to the garden,

we know his utter loneliness and his despair over the next cup he would drink.

We remember the stories of Judas’ betrayal, and of disciples falling away.

Yet, here tonight, we know the other story that redeems all the rest,

and we remember with bread and the cup the meaning of communion.

No matter the form of the meal, the shape of the table,

the fermentation of the grapes, or the political views to which we subscribe;

we are one in Jesus Christ at this table.




So, invited by Jesus, whose spiritual presence we affirm in the sharing of this sacrament,

we come to the table.

Look how it is set.

If you were a person who had never before attended

a service of Holy Communion in a church,

you might look at the way the table is arranged

and remark about how strange these vessels look.

Usually church Communion tables are works of art, lovingly crafted,

as is the cloth that is draped over them.

But no one cuts bread into such little bite-sized pieces.

And those servings of juice won’t quench anyone’s physical thirst.

So what’s the deal here? Is this a spiritual meal or just a quick metaphysical snack?


Of course, we’ve become accustomed to this table setting.

But more important than the way our table looks is the way Jesus set his table.

He set it with compassion for his followers

from whom he would be separated that night.

He set it with grace, that would forgive his enemies, even Judas,

whose presence at that table ought to make us think twice

about whom we would block for any reason from the Lord’s table.

Jesus set his table with love,

not the kind of love that pop songs sing about,

love so fluffy and fickle it is not really love at all.

But the kind of love that kneels humbly and washes dirty feet,

and the kind of love that serves until hands are callused and legs are tired,

and breath runs out and hearts depend on God’s renewing power

to love and serve some more.


But there is more on the table.

Paul says that every time we eat this bread and drink from this cup,

we proclaim the Lord’s death.

Jesus ate this meal on the night when he was betrayed.

So, look at what is on the table: betrayal, fear and cowardice, greed, and,

if the truth be told, all the sin and evil of the world.

Judas wasn’t the only sinner around the table.

Many artists have painted or sculpted that scene in the upper room,

portraying the moment Jesus spoke of his betrayer.

Of course, in most of those representations, we can find Judas quite easily.

But there, on the faces of the disciples, we can also see self-righteous indignation,

the eyes of accusers, feigned innocence, ... something of ourselves.


We want to sing hosannas and alleluias,

but we want to avoid at all costs the pain of the cross

that casts its dark shadow over this night.

In the words of Thomas a Kempis,

         Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread

                  but few to the drinking of the cup of his Passion.

         Many reverence His miracles;

                  few follow the shame of His Cross.


Had the disciples forgotten that after their feet were so clean and their bellies so full

there were still crosses to bear?


Within three days of his death on the cross,

compassion, grace, forgiveness, and love would remain,

and sin would lose its power, death its sting.

By his death, Jesus rearranged things in the upper rooms of every heart.

So we eat and drink;

we share in the body and blood of the one whose death can redeem

every table, every home, every family circle, every nation, for God so loved the world!


That night, the table was set with bread and wine and the stage was set for the death of Jesus.

As we break bread in his name, we proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.

That is how long we must carry the cross of discipleship even at the risk of death.




Until he comes.

If our sacrament of Holy Communion never looks forward

but only looks back, we are losing a glimpse of our future!


The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving helps us put our final hope into words:

“As Jesus gave his life for ours,

help us to live our lives for others with humility and persistent courage.

Give us strength to serve you faithfully until the promised day of resurrection,

when, with the redeemed of all the ages, we will feast with you at your table in glory.”

~ The Rev. Jeff Kellam, Parish Associate at Union Presbyterian Church, Endicott.