Who does Jesus welcome?
As I write I am sitting at a desk in my room at the St Clements Retreat Centre just out of Galong, a beautiful spot for a retreat in the midst of rolling pastureland, out of range of internet and mobile phone connections. I am leading a Kaltara retreat for the Canberra Region Presbytery.
On all four days of the retreat we shared together around the Lord’s table and each day, as we came to the institution, we reflected on who was present at the last supper. Who was invited? Was it just Jesus and the 12 disciples? Were there women present?
It was suggested by one that there would have been women present, but only in the background. There was some discussion about whether, given the crucial role of women throughout Jesus’ ministry, silence in the record meant absence or maybe an un-noteworthy presence serving the meal, looking after the disciples’ needs.
Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha and with other women at table gatherings suggests that is unlikely.
Someone in the group noted the absence of children. Another said, “Oh, but children would have been there, Passover being a family event.” They even mused that maybe Peter had children that could have been there. Comment was made that it would be inconsistent with Jesus’ ministry and whole way of being for children to be absent.
After two of these reflections I drew a picture of the last supper and I had women and men and children in the room and behind Jesus; a woman with her hand on his shoulder as he held up the cup, a reminder of the woman with alabaster jar of perfume who, on another occasion, through her action revealed her deep empathy with Jesus’ pain, fully aware, unlike all the others, that he faced death.
Surely, it would be quite likely that such a woman would have stood with her hand on Jesus’ shoulder as he broke the bread, lifted the cup.
Initially in my drawing the room was enclosed, but I felt that wasn’t right and so I created a big open doorway with people looking in, and someone from within beckoning outsiders to come and share the life that was being offered within.
On the following day when we shared at the Lord’s Table I projected my picture onto the wall for the others to see and asked if there was anything missing. There was conversation about how everyone in the picture looked close and glad to be there and that is not how it always is.
This led to talk of Judas, who was preoccupied with other things and the shadow that was cast across the room by his inability to participate in the same way as the others. So I drew Judas in as he left the room by the door behind Jesus.
Having to erase some of the pencil markings to achieve this meant this became a rather dark place in the picture.
It was then observed that there were spaces at the table, as if there were people missing. Were these places for the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Zealots and the Roman oppressors?
On that day it was suggested that we include a prayer for healing in our Eucharist and, as I thought about where we would do that in the service, I looked at my picture and thought, “Here at the table Jesus is offering healing, healing to individuals, healing to the world, the wine and bread agents of that healing — as we sit at table together we take to ourselves the way of Jesus, forgiveness, grace, love, reconciliation for the healing of our souls and of the world.
That evening we watched a movie called Normal, which challenged us to think about who is welcome today. This was a movie about a man who believed he was a woman born in a man’s body. In the movie, this person, Roy, is turned away from the church he has been a part of and served all his life.
Would Jesus have turned this man away? As I looked at my drawing there was a woman at the table who looked a bit like a man. I concluded that I had already drawn Roy into my picture.
Who is welcome at the Lord’s table?
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