Near the end of my mother’s life, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she slowly drifted away from us. There came a time when she could no longer remember my name.
I was sitting with her one afternoon. My mother had not spoken my name in months. I said to her: “Mom, I’m Paul, I’m your son Paul, can you say Paul?” She couldn’t. I said to her, “It’s okay, Mom; I love you, Mom.’ I was in my middle 50s, longing to hear my mother speak my name.
My mother was a gifted athlete. While my brother and I were growing up, it was my mother who taught us to pitch, catch, and hit a baseball. A star basketball player in high school, she coached us in the basics of the game.
We lived in a farmhouse at the edge of our small town. Just beyond our extensive gardens a large field stretched out toward the town. In the far corner of that field was a mowed section we had cleared for a ballfield.
On warm spring afternoons, my brother and I would race home from elementary school, gather gloves and bats, and meet our friends at that field.
My mother, who strongly encouraged sports, would let us play until my father was home from work and our dinner was practically on the table.
It was then that my mother would leave the kitchen, walk out the back screen door, and walk up through our garden to the crest of a small hill that overlooked the field. She would cup her hands around her mouth and call us.
“Paaauuul, Alllaannn, come hooommme.”
Our friends understood that for us the game was over. We immediately gathered up our equipment and ran home. It was not that we were such obedient children. We were not afraid of punishment if we were late. We wanted to be there. Our mom had called us, and we raced to the center of our childhood kingdom, which was our home. And the center of our home was a large kitchen table where our evening meal was waiting.
My father, my mother, my brother, and I were together around that table almost every evening of our growing up. Like no other place in our lives, it was around that table that we knew we belonged. We didn’t have to be good; we didn’t have to be smart; we didn’t have to be anybody but ourselves.
It was around that table that we were unconditionally loved. There was a place for us at that table.
You can imagine how it would have been for the disciples: every day for three years walking with Jesus, hearing him teach, seeing him heal, sharing meals together.
Yet after all this time together they did not really see him, they did not really know him.
Then, on their last night together before his suffering and torturous death, he invited them to share one last experience together, around a table.
Before the meal, as they were coming together, he washed their feet.
He knew they would soon flee from his side. He knew they were not ready or strong enough to follow him where he was going. He knew that one of them had already betrayed him and that another would soon deny knowing him.
Understanding all of this, Jesus wanted them to know there was a place for them at this table. He wanted them to know that this table and everything that it was about would sustain and transform their future.
He broke bread and gave to each one—his body broken for them. He shared a cup with each one—his blood shed for them.
There is a place for you at this table. You don’t have to qualify to sit here. You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to have your life together. You don’t have to understand all that it means.
You don’t have to be liberal, conservative, progressive, fundamental, evangelical, political, secular, religious, Republican or Democrat, straight or gay. To receive what this table offers, you cannot be looking around trying to decide who belongs and who doesn’t. At this table love will show you the way. Everyone is welcome.
Finally, there is one last table to consider. This is how I have come to picture it for myself.
I will take my last breath on earth and expel that breath. As I do this, as I die, a woman will step outside through the screen door of an old farmhouse. She will walk along a garden to a small rise that looks over a field. She will cup her hands around her mouth. This will not be my mother; it will be God. She will call out my name: “Paaaulll, come hooommme.”
Upon hearing her voice, I will come running: across a field, down past a garden, and into an old farmhouse through a screen door, into a great kitchen with a table that stretches out beyond sight and time.
All my friends are sitting at that table. All my enemies are there. My father, my mother, and brother are there. There is an empty chair next to them.
My mother rises from the table. She comes to me and takes my hands in hers. I am a little boy again. She looks into my eyes and speaks my name.
I am home.
Paul Grout is a former Annual Conference moderator and a retired pastor in the Church of the Brethren, now living in Bellingham, Washington. He is a leader in the A Place Apart community based in Putney, Vermont.