The mountain of which Isaiah speaks is Mt. Zion, an actual geographical
place, but it represents more than that: it is the royal home of
God and the place where all people are called to a feast. It is
the place from which God will banish death and disgrace and will
bring us salvation. It is an expansive, all-encompassing vision
of salvation for all people, represented by a feast of rich food
served to everyone. This is a vision of a table with no edges: an
invitation which extends indefinitely.
This vision from Isaiah 25 would have been familiar to Jesus and
his disciples. They were Jews, of course, and the writings of Isaiah
would have been among the holy texts which they studied and memorized.
In Jesus’ teaching and ministry, he often quotes from the
Hebrew Bible, and his two most-used sources are Deuteronomy and
Isaiah. I believe that in our text for today from the gospel of
Matthew, Jesus is embodying Isaiah’s vision of a table with
no edges, but in a very different way: instead of this huge vision
of the entire world, Jesus is living out this vision with each person
he encounters. This makes for a more intimate table, but it is still
a table with no edges: Jesus’ table doesn’t have the
limits which religious leaders want to place on it.
Judaism had evolved in the 450 years or so between Isaiah and Jesus.
It was likely never the expansive vision which Isaiah had of Mt.
Zion: people are still not saved, and death and disgrace are still
with us. No human structure or institution will ever completely
realize a divine vision. But Jewish practice has become increasingly
restricted about who can eat at a table together: certainly not
Jews, or Jews who aren’t ritually clean because of what they’ve
come in contact with, or how often they have washed; not women,
not sinners. Certainly not tax collectors, who were a very particular
kind of sinner -- the kind who betrayed and cheated their own people.
Let’s just say the guest list has gotten pretty small.
It is interesting to me how much restraint Matthew shows in writing
about his own calling. This is the gospel of Matthew, after all,
and Matthew was a tax collector, one of those especially despised
sinners. Matthew writes, “As Jesus was walking along he saw
a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and Jesus said to
him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
That’s about a straight-forward as it gets. It’s in
the next verses that all hell breaks loose, because the Pharisees
see Jesus eating dinner with sinners and tax collectors, and the
Pharisees are outraged. What kind of teacher is Jesus if he doesn’t
know or chooses to ignore the laws about who can eat at the same
table? Jesus sends the Pharisees packing, saying “I have come
to call not the righteous but sinners.” I’m sure the
Pharisees thought that they were the righteous: I’m not sure
that’s what Jesus was implying. If the “righteous”
can’t hear the truth about themselves, are they still the
And then the disciples of John the Baptist start in: how come we
and the Pharisees fast (go without eating) often, but your disciples
don’t? And Jesus says, (and I’m paraphrasing freely)
my disciples don’t fast because I am with them, and that is
cause for celebration. Can’t you see that the old rules don’t
apply here? It turns out that setting a table with no edges is not
all that popular; we like feeling like we’re included because
we’re the righteous, and that we don’t have to worry
about being seated next to someone who doesn’t agree with
us or doesn’t look like us or whom we just don’t know
and probably won’t like.
This morning you are invited to two tables without edges. The first
is this table where you are invited to share in the body and blood
of Christ. All around the world, Christians will be gathering at
tables today to eat variations of bread and juice or wine. This
is a foretaste of Isaiah’s vision of Mt. Zion and a feast
which is set for all people, and the promise of God’s salvation,
which we know has been fulfilled through the body and blood of Jesus
Christ. All who are in fellowship with God and neighbor are invited
to this table. There is a special plate for children where they
can receive a blessing, and there is enough for all.
The second table is the one in our Gathering Area. These are the
tables where you are invited to gather after worship to share Christian
fellowship. We won’t make you stay if you don’t want
to; we can’t make you eat if you are fasting; we can’t
make you share a table with folks you don’t know or don’t
like. But the tables in our Gathering Area can also be tables with
no edges: tables which extend hospitality to guests and new members,
tables which extend to our deacon groups and into our homes and
our workplaces: any table where we have the opportunity to share
food and fellowship and continue the work of Jesus. That is also
a form of communion, and an opportunity to affirm our participation
in the hospitality of Jesus Christ, who came not to call the righteous,
but to call people like us, at whatever tables we happen to be sitting.
Sisters and brothers, there is enough for all and you are invited
to both of these tables where Jesus is the host. Whether your vision
for this day stretches around the world, or if it just extends to
someone in this congregation who you have not met or have not talked
to for a while, we are participating in the communion of Christ
when we eat together.
I will give you some directions for communion, then we will break
and bless this bread so that you may come to the Lord’s table.