"This Do In Remembrance Of Me." A skilled craftsman had carved these (to us) familiar words into the wide overhang of a well-made table. I think "oak," not because I know much about woods, but oak has the rings of eternal beauty and delicate power. Over the years, I have seen tables like it—almost always polished to a bright gleam, lovingly set just so in some sanctuary, always ready to bear those powerful symbols of bread and wine, signifying the presence and nourishing care of our Lord. Even old ones with scars command notice.
This one was a perfect beauty. Carvings without flaw, the more lightly finished letters embedded in darker wood. Legs and top balanced in pleasing proportions. Not a scratch anywhere that I could see. How old would it be? How many believers would it have served? How much faith would it have sustained and strengthened? But this table did not make me content altogether, for it stood in the office of a lavish bungalow in Northern California, and it supported a computer. My owner friend told me that he had bought it at an auction sale—for about $25, he added casually—and he liked it a lot. It fit his office, didn't I think?
I couldn't reply, except for some polite noises I could barely hear myself produce. My heart was filled with a sorrow that has lasted since I saw it first many years ago. Every similar table I’ve seen since has reminded me of this one. But I couldn't say then what was in my heart, for he was the wrong person to say it to. My secular Jewish friend lives in California, a scholar (famous in his field), an author (successful and rich), clever and witty, sensitive about the needs of underdogs (students, parents and the politically powerless), and generous with his possessions.
Soon after I arrived, he showed me around his large bungalow filled with gorgeous art and beautiful furniture, all tastefully arranged. Out back, his swimming pool was surrounded by an exquisite array of well cared for trees, shrubs and flowers, a grapefruit, and an orange tree loaded with large juicy fruit, rich promise for tomorrow's breakfast. My friend had been born poor, but was wealthy now because of his hard work and the success of his teaching and writing. His possessions enriched eye and ear, nose and touch, and were not gathered to play a "let's impress the neighbours" game. He delighted in them. But he seemed utterly without consciousness of any faith, let alone the Christian faith.
So what could I say to this man to make him cease and desist moving around bits and bytes on a table meant for bread and wine? I don't think he would have understood my feelings had I expressed them. My heart had wanted to object to its current use, but I still don’t know how I could have. Apart from injecting a sour note into my short visit, pressing my point too hard might have elevated that table to an object sacred in itself, an oaken idol. Plain bread and cheap wine become symbols only within a specific setting, and any table or platform can become a Communion carrier in a place where three or three thousand have gathered in the name of Christ.
That's what my head told me then and tells me still. And yet my heart sorrowed at the sight of that table there, and sorrows still when I remember the moment.