A stranger is asking you a question. You missed it the first time so she patiently repeats herself, “your table is all set, are you and your party ready to be seated?” You look around at your 12 closest girls, all here to celebrate the relationships and love you’ve shared, and anticipate the commitment you are making in just a short week’s time. Her question, “are you ready…” feels so much bigger.
The table. It’s absolutely stunning, inviting you to pull right up and live deeply into this special night. The fire dancing inside the glass container reminds you of the flame flitting in your heart for the man you are to marry. The fresh flowers marking every third seat are a foretaste of the petals your angelic niece will release as she prepares the way for your approach.
I walk up. The smile on my face isn’t forced, it’s natural and disarming. You wonder if I somehow intimately know of your joy and am reflecting it for you to see. I welcome you, inviting you to reveal your hopes for the evening. You want it to be magical. And so it will. I get close enough to penetrate the buzz of strangers at neighboring tables and the live music across the way. We collaborate about what drink and fare will best suit your special night. My expertise and genuine interest in your desires is refreshing, fitting for tonight. As the evening continues my presence is always near, anticipating your needs, but granting space for the community shared before me to flourish, unhindered.
The drinks, the food, the accommodating and gracious spirit of hospitality swirling around, whispers, “sink deeper into your chair, let your laughter loose, and enjoy the cocktail of anticipation and contentment before you." You find yourself fully alive, imbibing the moments one sip at a time.
I step back and consider the beauty unfolding before me. I think about the years leading up to this night that have made it possible. Six years ago, the concept for this space was being dreamt up. The chefs were tinkering with the menu and considering who to employ to put together the accompanying drink list. The chairs were chosen because they were stylish but they were oh so comfortable, inviting you to stay a while. The tables made the cut because the lines of the wood hummed a melody of raw elegance. The staff members were carefully plucked out according to their unique ability to come alive in a way that welcomed strangers as friends.
And then there were the hours leading up to this moment. When you were getting ready this afternoon, so was I. I readied my appearance to be pleasant and my heart to serve happily and humbly. My opening bartender arrived today around 7am- hours before serving a single guest- to prepare the fresh ingredients for your cocktails. My chef and kitchen staff, even earlier; prepping, weighing, mixing, guaranteeing the quality of your very dish. Not to mention the arduous work of the janitorial staff, ensuring the freshness and safety of your evening. And I have the honor of connecting you to all of it. I get to deliver the food with my hands; to personally care for your one-of-a-kind desires in a way that pays homage to the intrinsic and unshakeable worth that God created you with. I have been entrusted to share with you the gift of hospitality, God’s most welcoming attribute.
Jesus sets the table. He brings up the vintage wine and pours it, blood-red, swirling into the glass. He hasn’t enjoyed the fruit of the vine since that ominous evening long ago when he reclined with his 12 closest friends. Nervous suspense was pulsing through him that fateful night as well, but of a different sort. Now as he sets the table the anticipation is untainted by death. The crimson wine doesn’t represent his imminent suffering and separation; it summons a reconciliatory reunion. The marriage of the Lamb will rightly be celebrated with the greatest of feasts, a joyous celebration of a bride, spotless, joined with her beloved. Jesus sets the table. He nervously calls out to his bride, “prepare yourself, for my preparations are beyond your wildest dreams. I long to be near you, I long for you to sit at my table.”
The preparations for this long-awaited marriage feast, the ultimate display of God’s hospitality, has been in the works for centuries. It began when God crafted the wood for the table and the grapes for the wine. In the beginning God created a good world, bursting with beauty and sustenance. On Day six when God breathed life into his image-bearers, he had already filled the world with wondrous gifts for his people. Nutrients to fuel our bodies: vegetables and fruits of every color, fragrance and flavor imaginable. Water to satisfy our thirst, flowing over rocky mountains, through grand canyons and valleys. Means to express the creative spirit within us, song, dance, and art- all waiting to be discovered and shared. God created a world that could sustain mankind’s most basic needs, and deepest longings.
In the Garden, there was not a need or desire unmet, because God and his creation existed in perfect harmony with one another. Relationship. Creation was never meant to fulfill our deepest desires apart from God, but only insofar as we relate with creation in a way that glorifies him and experiences the riches of his love. Sin. Sin slashed open the beating heart of that relationship. The hemorrhagic effect left our communion with God, each other, and his world in disarray. Right relationship needed to be restored. Jesus. God’s only son. He came to stand in the gap. The hospitality of God was not stolen away by sin. While we were still estranged from God, he not only continued to lavish the common grace of creation upon us, but personally invited us to know him once again, to sit at his table. He came to make strangers friends; family. To make us his beloved bride.
When I serve you and your loved ones tonight, I think of the ways that I am able to reflect the character of my God. I get to stand in the gap between the common grace of creation and the isolating effects of sin. You are a stranger, but I offer you my genuine love and care as I deliver you sustenance and sensory pleasures. If you treat me poorly, I will feebly call on the strength of Christ who advocated for those who mocked him. I will care for you as a unique and special soul, with great value and worth just as God pursues me with his personal and boundless grace. I will not judge you according to what you can offer me in return, but just as God has loved us while we were empty-handed, I choose to serve you according to the impartial grace that God has shown to me. Tonight, I may spill a drink, become impatient, get distracted, mistake an order, but God does not revoke his invitation for me to live into his mission as I serve you according to the Kingdom in which I am a part. Thank you for letting me serve you. I pray that you taste of God’s hospitality tonight.
This was also posted on Surge Network's Blog. It is a great resource to connect with stories of people who are living out their faith everyday in the marketplace, neighborhoods and beyond.