This past winter I left the cold of the southeastern United States, flew across the ocean and landed in the muggy, hot and sticky weather of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I was on my way to take part in a large training that takes place annually at our Young Life Headquarters for Africa and the Middle East. For almost three full weeks, leaders from all over gather here to be with one another, to be with the Lord and to learn more about how to reach lost teens all across their continent. In this post, I wanted to share something that stood out to me during my time there.
If you walked through the gates of the Young Life Africa Training Center, crunched up the gravel driveway and peered in through the luscious tropical vegetation that covers the lawn, you would see a covered porch area that has many long tables set up, end to end creating a long table…much like something from a Dr. Seuss book, much like one I imagine waits for us in heaven.
This long table is set, carefully and methodically, every day. Each table cloth is laid perfectly, weights carefully clipped to the edges of the beautiful African fabric so that it doesn’t blow away. Each African textile is pieced together to match and to line up as it blankets the long banquet table stretching across the front door step of the beautiful house and training center. Bougainvilleas grow and wrap and dangle themselves, surrounding the table in a way that looks as if the plant is inviting you to take a seat. Chairs and benches are put into place. Salt and pepper set. Flowers displayed in vases. Jars of chilled water are set invitingly on the table. Plates are counted and placed perfectly, colors coordinating to the brightly colored tablecloths.
It takes time to set this table.
Every evening, a South African staff woman, Rentia, lovingly puts every piece together with the kitchen staff. She makes sure it looks perfect for her friends to dine – every evening.
This reminds me of a night that is described in the gospels when Jesus sets a table for his best friends.
It probably isn’t historically accurate, but when I think of the story, I imagine Jesus sets out cushions, the most plush he can find, around a low sitting table. He lays down the most beautiful linens. Table cloths that are stitched and designed and dyed to the highest quality that is offered in Jerusalem those days. Ornate textiles are placed and aromatic incense is burned. Olives and oils and delicious foods. A great loaf of freshly baked bread and the best wine.
Jesus invited his friends to sit, to relax, to enjoy.
I remember at one point in the evening, Jesus rose from the table and found a basin that He filled with water. He knelt down and washed each disciple’s feet. Dusty, dirty and probably smelly feet that had walked sandy roads of Jerusalem all day long. Jesus didn’t think twice about their filth. He didn’t hold his nose or his breath, He knelt in humility and served his friends.
He broke bread around the table that symbolized his body being broken for them. He poured the wine, symbolizing His blood, into glasses and gave it to them. He washed them. He lavished them. He offered them life and strength.
It was the same trip just a few months ago that one of our African staff Alexis Kwamy invited us to the table together to remember that night that Jesus set a table for friends.
Much like the table that Rentia sets every night, Alexis set the scene of this story of Jesus and His friends and honestly, it’s one I’ve heard more times than I can count. Although the story is familiar to me, the way that Alexis told it seemed fresh.
Alexis explained the symbolism of the bread and Jesus’ flesh that brings us strength. He said that the wine and Jesus’ blood represents life. Whenever we come together in communion, when we sit and relax and take time to be with one another around a table, it is representative of the LIFE and the STRENGTH that we are freely given in Jesus.
This Easter Season, as we celebrate the Holy Week, I invite you to gather around a table with the people the Lord has given you in your life, serve one another, humble yourselves before one another, break bread and think about the strength Jesus supplies. Remember the life you’ve been given, and celebrate the love He has lavished and continues to pour out on all of us.