The Table Spread for All
The last twenty-four hours of our time at Dhour Choiuer with our Lebanese and Syrian sisters was a time of holy moments, of feasting from a well-spread banquet table, and we ate until we were overflowing. This banquet was a table not just of bread and hummus and babaganoush and all the other delights of a Middle Eastern cuisine, but the spiritual and emotional food of the kingdom of God.
Friday worship opened in the conference center and was led by Rev. George Mourad, the pastor from the church in Rabieh, just up from Beirut. George is a dynamic and well-loved preacher and he brought us a word from Matthew 15:21-28 about the Canaanite woman seeking healing for her daughter. The reminder Rev. George gave us is that as human beings we have a tendency to categorize people by outward characteristics like race or religion, but Jesus’ coming to Tyre and Sidon – outside the community of his people – is the sign that he loves all people, regardless of the labels we create for them. This is the incarnation!
Our own Rev. Nancy led Bible study for us on the same passage, and really fleshed out the story from the perspectives of the woman herself, the disciples, the daughter who was healed, Jesus (in all humility we all went with her in thinking about this) and Matthew who wrote the story. This passage makes us all squirm a bit when Jesus speaks these words: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel…It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (15:24, 26)
This Canaanite woman, a Gentile despised by the people of Israel, is very much like many of the Syrian women we were sitting with and others like them who have been pushed out of their homes and it is easy to sympathize with her. How could Jesus compare her to a dog, even if the word used was a household pet and not a street dog? It’s a tough thing to consider, and yet this woman goes on to remind Jesus that even the crumbs of the master’s table fall to the ground for the dogs. And Jesus tells her that her faith is great and her daughter is healed. We know this story.
Nancy went on to remind us that just four verses after this story comes the feeding of the 4,000 and the collecting of seven baskets full of crumbs, those same crumbs that fall from the master’s table in the other story. Holding a basket of crumbs before her, she proclaimed that God’s banquet table prepared and blessed in the hands of Jesus is not only enough to feed the people of Israel, but that it is more than enough for us all! He came far from his home and his people – the lost sheep of Israel – to feed the farthest out, the outcast, the refugee, the other. Through his blessing, we are blessed to bless others.
A Friday night of fun and frolic commenced at 9 p.m. as the four comedy sisters Lina, Mona, Sonia and Ghada presented a comic review of our days at the conference, making laughter erupt like Vesuvius as we relived moments of the conference, including our bus trip which never arrived at the original destination but ended with ice cream. The highlight of the night was the hat judging show in what became known as “The Miss Hat Thing.” Again, the laughter of 100 women in beautifully adorned wide-brimmed hats, which you have already ready about, made the walls and windows of the conference center shake. Sweet Yola of Damascus was declared the overall winner. Although possibly one billion photos had been taken by this time in the conference, I am pretty sure on this night we reached a new record: one gazillion photos. God bless the digital camera inside each of our phones!
The conference always ends with a communion service on Saturday morning and today was no different. But instead of rising at our normal 7:00 a.m., we American sisters arose at 4:45 to see our sisters from Aleppo off. More laughter ensued in the dark morning as it took 45 minutes to load their luggage on top of the bus. Their wonderful driver modeled one of the hats and we all joined him for one last group photo. And then as the sun started to lighten the eastern sky, we joined together in a prayer circle to pray for the safety of this group as they traveled the difficult road back to a city under siege. Final kisses and hugs – and the rain of tears – and they were off. Earlier this afternoon we were informed that they had made it safely home. God is good. All the time.
We came for worship after a quick breakfast. And as Revs. Lisa and Nancy presented the elements to us we were reminded that this is not a Lebanese table or a Syrian table or an American table or even our table. This was the Master’s table and it was not filled with crumbs, but with the banquet of the body and blood of Christ. And there was more than enough for all.
West Hills (Presbyterian) Church, Omaha, Nebraska