A Table Before Me

My mother attended boarding school at a time when girls were taught the importance of setting a proper table: salad fork on the left, then the dinner fork. Knife on the right, facing inward, then the teaspoon. There were also places for soup spoons and dessert forks. One did not use one’s knife for the butter, but instead a specially-shaped butter knife lying just so on the butter plate.

She passed this knowledge on to her daughters, and throughout my childhood, one of my chores was setting the table, including cloth napkins and candles in the center.

I did not often invite a friend over for dinner.

In the end, what matters is not the table setting, but the food we are given. We all have times when the table may be lovely, but the food is tasteless. In my parents’ home, we set a proper table whether we were eating a birthday dinner or weeknight stew.

Each day we live, God invites us to a banquet. In every agony or joy, every ordinary breath and common moment, He sets out the bread of His presence and bids us come.

“Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.”

Exodus 25:30

The table He prepares nurtures and fills.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Psalm 23:5

But we doubt, don’t we? When worries breach our walls and hope escapes into the night, we wonder if there are any crumbs left under the table for us.

“They spoke against God; they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?”

Psalm 78:19

As I write, there is a feast laid outside my window. Shimmering birch leaves, blue sky and a bird’s whistle heap a bounty of beauty onto my waiting plate.

Here also is a banquet in my lap. Holy words that comfort and heal. Life-giving words on fingered pages. It is a Sunday, and soon I will partake of worship and fellowship, bread and cup.

But I, too, doubt. My appetite swells for the temporal, temporary goodies that bring a jolt of pleasure or brief respite, instead of for the beauty and richness of gratitude for a life given, a burden lifted, a heart healed.

I turn to other things and disregard the holy abundance.

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’”

Luke 14:16-20

I’ve found that as I lift my eyes in expectation and open my hands to be filled, the manna always comes to my hungry heart. Though I doubt, still He sends it to me; just enough. Just enough.

There is a feast waiting, one day. A celebration of communion and joy beyond imagining. The table is set, waiting for you. For me.

There is also a banquet waiting, this day. A hint of hope and sweet encouragement, a taste of heaven in this dry and weary land. A holy deposit given to nourish and strengthen our souls along the road.

It comes from the One who waits eagerly for our presence. The One who said, “I am the bread of life.”

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

Isaiah 55:1-2

The one who seeks finds the bread of heaven and the water of life. In the darkness, in the waiting, the manna comes, sweet.

For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?

Rebecca Harding Davis

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