Lent Fridays: Jesus Freak and The Table for All

I just finished one of the best books that I’ve read in a decade, and possibly one of the most powerful books I’ve read on what it means to be a follower of Jesus in my lifetime. Not since I read Max Lucado’s God Came Near as a student at Abilene Christian University have I been so drawn to Jesus through a book as I have been by reading Jesus Freak by Sara Miles. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead is the subject of Lent discussion at my church in Los Angeles, and I began reading it along with my community of faith here. Sara Miles defies all categories, but she is the Director of Ministry and manager of the food bank at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Sara came to faith late in life through her observation of the lives of saints in her life, not because of any particular conviction about a doctrine. Her book describes the concreteness of this Jesus life that drew her. Unlike many Mainline authors, her book is endorsed by Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, and Tony Campolo. For the next weeks of Lent, I will share some of my favorite excerpts from the book.

For this week, she describes her process of coming to Christian faith, and it is so meaningful to me because it so well describes the joy I found in serving and taking communion once I finally discovered that the Table is not just for those who believe perfectly, or for those who live perfectly, but it is a Table for all. She writes of her journey to faith:

“I didn’t exactly study the Bible — that great mongrelized library of stories, books, letters, songs, unfinished manuscripts, polemics, lists, and lost treasures. Rather, I swam in it. I couldn’t read Scripture in order to single out one lesson with a beginning, a middle, and an end, or use it to fix a stable doctrine. But in the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the hymns of many traditions, I discovered something of the spaciousness of God’s meaning, and the wildness of God’s sense of time.

I found that Jesus does not, anywhere in the Gospels, spend too much time calling his people to have feelings, or ideas, or opinions. He calls us to act: hear these words of mine, and act on them. Worship and service were parts of a whole; the Friday food pantry and the Sunday Eucharist were just different expressions of the same thing. Well-meaning Christian visitors liked to describe the pantry as a “feeding ministry,” but that just seemed like a nervous euphemism to me. What I saw was church: hundreds of people gathering each week around an altar to share food and to thank God.

And then, on Sundays, in the very same space, communion. “In the fullness of time bring us,” the congregation would sing, “with every tribe and language and people and nation, to the feast prepared from the foundation of the world.” The priest, and whoever else was serving that day — a woman with cancer; a fussy older guy; a serene, angelic seven-year old boy in shorts — would lift the plates of fresh bread and cups of wine and turn, showing the food to the people standing pressed close around the big round table in the middle of the sanctuary. You never knew who’d be holding the bread. Paul liked to say that “the surest sign of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is when there’s somebody completely inappropriate at the altar.”

Frequently that was me. “Jesus welcomes everyone at his Table,” I’d announce, “so we offer the bread and wine which are Christ’s body and blood to everyone, without exception.” There was no altar rail or line, so we’d head into the crowd, carrying communion to clergy and teenagers, old ladies, Jews and baptized Christians, random visitors. “The body of Christ”, I’d say, looking each person in the eyes and handing each person Jesus. And time would stop over and over.

This thing is real.”

It is.

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