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April 2021 Prayer Prompt
...around the table

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Provided by Christian Churches Network of London (CCNL)

Reading in Luke 24, on the first Easter Sunday, there is an encounter that draws us in between two disciples and the risen Jesus. The two were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about the distance from London to Ilderton. They were perplexed, hopes dashed, deep in conversation about everything that had happened. In the middle of this, Jesus came up and started to walk with them. They didn't recognize him and we don't know why not. We might naturally think it might have been easier for Jesus to say, "Hey guys, it's me Jesus, I'm alive!". But they had witnessed his painful death on the cross, and had just heard that the women had discovered an empty tomb that morning. Instead, Jesus asked what they were talking about so passionately.

They just stood there, saddened, like they had lost their best friend.... because they had. Along the way, they shared their grief, their anger, their confusion, and their questions as he listened to it all. When they finished, Jesus then began a rather surprising response by saying “You are so thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?”

Then he continued with the Books of Moses, then through all the Prophets, pointing out everything that referred to him - basically a mini Old Testament survey course! Arriving at the edge of town, Jesus appeared to be planning to walk on farther. But they urged him to stay, have supper with them as it was late in the day. He accepted their invitation. Then, a quite remarkable thing happened. As they sat down to share a meal at the table with him, he took the bread, blessed it and gave it to them. At that moment, suddenly they recognized him. Then he disappeared. Amazed, they quickly returned to Jerusalem to tell the others.

Recently, as we recalled the Easter story once again, we considered the impact of Jesus' death and resurrection on us, and maybe wondered how we would have felt if we had been there. Imagine if you were the "fly on the wall" in this encounter on the road to Emmaus with Jesus. What would you be talking about as you were walking? Would you be full of anger, questions, crushed hopes? Would you recognize Jesus? And do you think you would be willing to invite this person who you still view as a stranger, to eat a meal with you? It is only one very small part of this whole glorious story, a small tasty tidbit in the "feast of resurrection hope', but one that we invite all of you to ponder more this month in prayer together.

The blessing of hospitality - the sharing of both presence and food - not only a blessing to others, but also to ourselves. It has been lost in the chaos and social distancing of this past year where we could not safely invite others in or even meet them outside easily - even though some found quite unique, creative ways to share with others. Of the many things we miss during this pandemic, it is the opportunity to be together around the table - the deep desire to meet "face to face" without a screen, and maybe even someday, without a mask. Our need for "social bubbles" have turned us more inward. Few have made new friends this past year, and our interchanges with acquaintances, workmates, and strangers have been limited. Did you notice how the disciples' natural offer of a shared meal around the table with a stranger led to their eyes and hearts being opened to greater understanding of the need for Jesus' sacrifice and to deeper conversations of God's purposes. So glad they asked - it would have been easy to let the stranger go on his way! Many of us speak of missed family celebrations or parties with friends, church potlucks or coffee dates. Biblical hospitality goes deeper than only entertaining. It can lead to connections, relationships, shared experiences, and greater understanding of "the other" and of God. Luke's gospel is particularly packed with accounts of Jesus either going to a meal...coming from a meal...or sharing in a meal... with all kinds of people. That should compel us to devote some spiritual attention to this topic and explore the many facets in prayer before our God. May our hearts and minds be opened more to the challenges and opportunities in being "around the table" - simply a shared act of welcome that opens the door to invite our God to enter in.

We pray these things in the weeks and months ahead:

O God, many of us yearn to be back to the table with those closest to us. We have missed those precious moments. To share stories face to face, to laugh and pray and tease each other once again. Maybe time to grieve any shared losses this past year or begin to mend old wounds together. There may be brokenness that needs healing. Let us welcome one another as you welcome us to your table, God. The poignant words of Josh Garrell's worship song rings in our ears: "Come on home, home to me, And I will hold you in my arms and joyful be...there will always, always be a place for you at my table. Return to me." In the same way that you welcome us to your arms, may that "welcome home" be accomplished by your grace, especially within our families.

But there is so much more beyond our immediate families God - as we expand our contacts and open our lives up more and more, help us to learn from Jesus' example. May we understand better the power of good questions. Jesus was an excellent example of this. Even in the Emmaus road story, he started with a question "What are you talking about?" May we likewise be increasingly curious about one another. And then God, please give us the grace to actually listen intently and thoughtfully to the answers. Oh, the temptation to interrupt, correct, insert our own interpretation or story is probably difficult for some of us. We will all have to learn our social interaction skills again. Teach us God to be both courageous and wise, gentle and bold when we enter into difficult conversations, led by your Spirit. Like the ones Jesus had with a teacher of the law, or with the Samaritan woman, or with his disciples in a fishing boat. While silly chatter and the back-and-forth banter of good friends can be such fun (and we all feel like we may need a bit of that right now) make us sensitive to your leading that we may choose to go deeper, ask the probing questions, and allow holy space for you to enter into the words spoken. May we offer not just tasty physical food to others, but also rich spiritual nourishment for the soul as well.

God, help us to become better hosts. To freely invite others into connections, conversation, and even relationship. It is no surprise that one of the last acts of Jesus before the crucifixion was sharing a last supper with the disciples. Keep our pride from fussing, impressing or performing, but rather keep our focus on serving simply. May we even consider what so many did for Jesus - to co-host people with friends who may need physical spaces to invite others into. Open our minds, our homes, our hearts to provide safe welcoming environments outside, inside, along the road. And may we always be cognizant that we are indeed co-hosting with you God, present in our midst.

God we ask that you help us to also become really good guests like Jesus was. He got invited to weddings, dinner parties, neighbourhood BBQ's or their equivalent in those days. Scripture tells us that you Jesus were criticized often for hanging out with unsavory people - the “unclean” and "sinners". You embraced brokenness. Oh God, may we likewise become known for that. Teach us to graciously and joyfully accept invitations into unfamiliar situations or uncomfortable be willing to enter others' surroundings, instead of always asking that they come into our settings. Sometimes, we quietly express that it just feels easier to be with people more like us. Others often comment that we, their Christian friends, neighbours, or co-workers only invite them to something at a church - our comfortable space, maybe often not theirs. In Luke 5: 26-30, it says "After this, he went out and saw a man named Levi at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” And he did—walked away from everything and went with him. Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner." We know that Jesus also went as gladly to dear friends' houses like Mary and Martha's as he went to antagonistic Pharisees' houses on many occasions. He graciously, lovingly invited all people into greater relationship and connection with him.

Right now God, one of the subtle challenges we face in 2021 is a pervasive hesitancy or caution about large crowds. The mere thought of attending something like "the feeding of the 5,000" event in Luke sounds to many like a 'super spreader' moment! Mental health professionals tell us that this caution of "people filled" spaces will possibly linger for awhile, for pretty logical reasons. For some, the thought of returning to church, or going on buses, trains or planes, or visiting someone else's home could be anxiety producing. Spirit of God within us, please inspire us with such sensitive hearts to not only recognize this, but also seek safe, creative ways to engage with a variety of people that respects these concerns.

God, you encourage us to gladly extend our hospitality to those in need. In Matthew's gospel, it says that whenever we offer cup of cold a water in Jesus' name it is as if we have offered it to you Jesus. What a challenging thought! Luke 14:12-14 Jesus also said this; "Then he turned to the host. ‘The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be — and experience — a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned — oh, how it will be returned! — at the resurrection of God’s people.’” In love, let us engage in seeking ways to do this, not just in theory or theology, but in practical ways.

God in all this talk of hospitality, we need to pray for those who work in the hospitality industry.... the restaurants, diners, coffee shops - the owners, the wait staff, cooks, cleaners, suppliers. They often provide the neutral spaces and great food where we connect with others. Many are struggling to survive right now - hit hard by COVID restrictions - unsure of the future. May we be generous in support, kindness and patience with them as they face uncertain futures.

Finally God, extend the reach of our attitudes and conversations in hospitality beyond just those with who we immediately connect, as we never know who is watching or listening. Help us understand that In our homes, our children learn precious life lessons by what they may see and learn of your Kingdom in the ministry of hospitality, by who they see welcomed around our tables. And we do not know who is overhearing the conversations of some Swiss Chalet Sunday lunch meals! May we represent your Kingdom well when we are talking around a table, sharing a coffee in a Tim Horton's or Starbucks, or in a staff break room, recognizing that it may also be noticed by those watching and listening at the next table, or by waiters or waitresses.

There is an interesting reminder of this in a classic painting of "Road to Emmaus" by Diego Velázquez, a 17th century artist, Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus, Christ and the two disciples are at a table talking in the background. The focus is on a young Moorish girl, a servant, standing at the kitchen table. She is tentatively holding a pitcher, but her attention appears to be on what is going on the next room. She seems to be listening carefully, head titled, maybe aware that something extraordinary was happening. What did she hear as they sat down at the table together? Had she heard of this Jesus who was crucified? Think of that this image as we engage with others, that you God are alive and at work in all those around us, in ways we may not see or yet comprehend. Please use the impact of our hospitality, our words, your love alive in us to draw people to know you.

We look forward to the days ahead around the table with you God...building uncommon community in your Kingdom both now and in your Kingdom to come.

April 2021 Summary: This month please be praying for...
  • our personal growth in knowing Christ as we spend time in the Scriptures (Luke 24: 13-35).
  • meaningful in-person family time that builds intimacy, strengthens communication and heals any wounds.
  • the grace to be people who are marked by hospitality by hosting others.
  • the ability to listen well, either as hosts or guests, showing genuine interest in others and the desire to make connections with others that aren’t necessarily like us by expressing Christ’s love.
  • understanding others who may be cautious or hesitant to enter public spaces or large groups of people.
  • our growth in connecting through our acts of hospitality, generosity and solidarity with those who have been marginalized, are in need, left homeless or impoverished.
  • those especially in the hospitality industry, both the people and the businesses who have been hit so hard by the pandemic.
  • the grace to, in every action and conversation, express the love and character of Christ to everyone, including those who may simply observe or overhear us.