I had the pleasure today of joining with several members of the congregation for a lunch at the Mulgrave Country Club, a large sporting and gambling club with a huge dining room and a great seniors’ meal deal (not that I could order it ;)). There were delays with some of the meals, which made for some fun speculation about what was causing them, as well as the usual ‘should we wait, or dig in?’ We dug in!
I enjoyed my meal (chicken ‘curry’ – somewhere between a tandoori and tikka) and I wondered whether this was the sort of table fellowship which characterised Jesus’ ministry – food and friendship around a meal table – or whether it couldn’t be like it because we had individual orders, different drinks and, well, we were in a dining room just around the corner from the ‘gaming’ area, where there would almost certainly be people for whom gambling is a problem and whose losses help build the club and its facilities. Surely Jesus wouldn’t support eating here?
I suspect that my mental image of the ‘upper room’ where Jesus shared a last Passover with his disciples has been overly shaped by Da Vinci’s depiction and the idea that every meal Jesus shared with his disciples was perfect, somehow holy, separate from the world around. There were no Pokies venues in Jesus’ day, but there was gambling, there was exploitation and while Jesus brought the Kingdom with him wherever he went, that Kingdom never existed in a vacuum. The challenge for those who want to embody the community of Christ is being ‘holy’ without thinking that means withdrawing from the world in fear of either being accused of shoving our religion down others’ throats or derided for being religious nuts. One of our members, the Rev. Corrie Symington, recently returned from her native Holland, where she’d been surprised to see many diners in the Pancake Parlour (yes, it’s in the Netherlands, too) pause to pray before eating. This small act of public faithfulness was apparently accepted and respected by other diners and by staff. I realise now that I didn’t even say my own ‘grace’ before eating today. Perhaps that’s where holiness can begin – with simple gratitude expressed regardless of context.