While in Italy this past August, Gary & I visited the ancient walled city of Anghiari which is in the region of Tuscany. This beautiful, fortified city contains several small cathedrals. Of course, we visited all of them! The one that impressed me the most was rather plain on the outside. But when we entered the church I was immediately captivated by a painting of the Last Supper that was located on the main wall of the side chapel. It was magnificent.
I went over to find out more about this beautiful work of art. It was painted by Florentine artist Giovani Antonio Sogliani, in 1533. You have a photo of the central portion of this painting in your bulletin. Its composition is similar to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper except that in Sogliani’s version Judas is sitting on the opposite side of the table. He is the only person in the painting who is looking directly at us. One hand is on his hip. The other clutches a money bag. His body position makes me feel like he’s deciding whether to stay or to go after the news of his betrayal is predicted by Jesus.
The reason why I shared this image with you, is that it was the first thing that popped into my mind when I read today’s gospel lesson. The power of this image for me is that tells us something about what the reign of Christ looks like. It looks a lot like a Table where everyone is invited to share a meal. In this meal, Jesus is literally giving of himself, “This is my Body, which is given for you.” “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Those who are seated at this Table do not deserve such a valuable gift, but Jesus gives it to them anyway. He offers it to Judas who would betray him, and Peter who would deny even knowing who Jesus was. He offers it to the rest of the disciples whom we learn in our gospel lesson are arguing about which one is the greatest. I can almost hear Jesus saying to them, “If everyone can just stay at the Table, we can work everything out.”
The beauty of Sogliani’s painting for me, is that it captures this moment of decision for Judas, and for us. Will Judas remain at the Table in spite of his misgivings about Jesus? Will we stay at the Table in spite of our differences? I think that’s why Sogliani has Judas facing us. It invites us to be in conversation with him. This is why it’s such a powerful work of art.
Speaking of tables, we will all be gathered around tables this coming Thursday. Some of those tables will be small, others will be large. Some of those tables will have lavish home cooked meals. Others will take place in a restaurant. As we gather together with loved ones to give thanks and enjoy each other’s company, our tables have the potential to be just as contentious as Jesus last supper. We do not always get along with those who are our blood relatives.
Some of us will be praying that neither politics nor religion will come up at the dinner table. Others will be holding onto feelings of hurt and resentment that we’re trying to keep from bubbling to the surface. Betrayals and denials can also make their presence known at our Thanksgiving tables. And let’s not forget to mention discussions regarding which one of us is the greatest! We all have that one relative whose children are all too perfect and whose life appears to be one success after another. #Blessed So our Thanksgiving tables can be just as contentious as Jesus’ Last Supper.
On this Reign of Christ Sunday, I hear our Savior saying the same thing to us as I imagine him saying to his disciples: “If everyone can just stay at the Table, we can work everything out.” In spite of our differences of opinion, in spite of our hurts and resentments, in spite of need to be right, if everyone can just stay at the Table, we can work everything out.”
You see, the Reign of Christ is more than an abstract theological concept that we debate and discuss. It is an experiential reality that has a profound impact on the way we live our lives. The Reign of Christ is not something we will only experience when we die and go to heaven. The Reign of Christ is supposed to be revealed among us now. It is to be revealed as we gather together for worship every Sunday morning. It is to be revealed around our Thanksgiving tables. It is to be revealed in the choices we make, each and every day, to exclude or include, to dominate or to serve.
Jesus, himself, pointed this out during the final meal he shared with his disciples: “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
So, my dear friends, we have lots of choices to make as we go in peace and serve in the name of Christ. If Jesus is going to truly reign in us, we must constantly ask ourselves the following question: Are we inviting others to gather around the many tables we sit at, or are we excluding them through our words and actions? Are we making others feel welcomed, valued and loved, or are we secretly hoping they will leave voluntarily so we don’t have to feel guilt about their departure?
Make no mistake about it, the Reign of Christ is meant to be experienced in our lives and in our world. In a nation that is more polarized than ever by political and religious beliefs, the call for everyone to come to the Table is needed now more than ever. In the midst of betrays and denials and arguments over who is the greatest, Jesus tells us that if everyone can just stay at the Table, we can work everything out.”
This may seem a bit simplistic and naive, but this is what the Reign of Christ looks like in its most concrete form. The choice is always up to us. No one is forcing us to do this difficult and holy work. But if Christ is going to truly reign in our lives and in our world, this is the work we are called to do.
We accomplish this seemingly impossible task by asking ourselves one simple question: “Who am I excluding from my table? As an individual? As a family? As a church? As a society? When we figure this out, when we name names, we’ll know exactly what to do. If Christ truly reigns in our hearts we will try our best to extend the invitation for them to come and dine with us. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” May we follow his example and do likewise. Amen.
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck