Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Place for All At the Table

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we commemorate the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples. The day he took bread, broke it, and said, “this is my body, given up for you.” The day he got down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet.

It brings me to tears; some of happiness, some of frustration. Here is our God, the Word Incarnate, stripping off dusty sandals, bathing and anointing callused feet. I had my feet washed once, at a retreat when I was in high school. The intimacy of it caught me my surprise. I felt wholly joined to my church and to God at that moment; the frustration I feel now is for people I love who don’t feel that way, who think there is no place for them at the Lord’s table.

My daughter is preparing to receive the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation this May. It’s the final sacrament of initiation, the point where a person is considered adult enough to make an informed choice about his or her beliefs, to say, Yes, I am part of this Church.

One of my daughter’s friends, one of my friend’s children, has decided not to be confirmed at this time. Because I know my friend and her child, I know that this is not a product of laziness, sluggish faith, or rebellion: it’s a thoughtful act, one I wholly respect. But my church—and here I speak of my specific church, the one I attend on Sundays, not the global church—doesn’t see it that way. They’ve been giving my friend small scolds and nudges about how Good Parents would make sure (force? Surely they don’t mean that) their children to be confirmed, while not once asking the nearly-grown child why?

Why don’t you want this right now? What holds you away, not from God—because nothing can keep you from the love of God—but from this human institution trying to worship God? What have we done to make you feel that there isn’t a place here for you?

When I was in sixth grade I changed schools and made a new best friend. (That she’s still a good friend is one of my heart’s joys.) I had been lonely in my former school, and I was so glad to have this friend who felt so much like me. One Saturday morning I went over to her house. After awhile the most delicious smells started coming from the kitchen. We got up and went to the kitchen.  “Mom,” my friend said, “can Kim stay for lunch?”

Her mom smiled and nodded toward the table. A place had already been set for me.

I’ve never forgotten that moment, how loved and welcome I felt, how much that very small thing meant to me. It still means so much to me. It changed how I parent; it made me try to always welcome my children’s friends, to set them places at our table.

It taught me once and for always how we ought to be to each other. Come, your place is already here. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s going to be in Heaven, and I live for the day it’s true on earth as well.