“When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me …’ And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maids of the high priest came; and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it.” Matthew 26: 20-21, Mark 14:66a-68a
2020 is behind us, but our past year leaves haunting questions for 2021. As we approach the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we ask, “What has 2020 taught us about the importance of gathering in our diversity at common tables?” Despite COVID-19, we have gathered virtually — and sometimes in person. But who has been at our tables?
The gospel lessons tell us that Jesus invited his disciples who had grown to love him over three years, but his invitation was not exclusively for them. Through his ministry, he invited them to invite others. The acceptance of Jesus’ invitation meant his disciples had to be willing to have their perspectives challenged to pursue a fuller humanity and divinity for themselves and others. In sum, they had agreed to a persistent test of their assumptions.
The Last Supper presented a climactic test of their assumptions of who was willing to follow Jesus. This was done when he announced the troubling truth that there would be one among them who would betray him and one who would deny him. Although Jesus knew this before he invited them to the table, he still invited all of them. He knew that such truths would make for uncomfortable moments at the commonly gathered table of the Passover meal.
2021 is also a season for us to be gathered at diverse tables of discomfort and to actively tell and address our truths together. Like Jesus, this means inviting those who are both familiar and unfamiliar to us. Very importantly, this means inviting those who we perceive to be betrayers and deniers of our truths and being willing to arrive at new and renewed truths together.
In 2020, COVID-19 invited us to a common table that revealed the truth about our common human frailties and vulnerabilities, despite counternarratives that have distracted us from such truth. In 2021, we remain at this same table, where we are invited to share our authentic stories of joy, lament and hope. We are invited to share and redress the traumas of historical racial and gender inequities and environmental and economic crises — all of which relate to the scourge of hunger and poverty.
2021 is a new season for us to embrace these truths and to seek common solutions that have been addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Bread invites persons of diverse faith, ages and politics to gather at a common table to end hunger and poverty. As at Jesus’ table, there will be discomfort amid the hope.
Won’t you join us in this God-given moment to do this? Please go to bread.org to learn more.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.