You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." How many hundreds, even thousands, of times have I said these words. They, along with all the verses of the 23rd Psalm, are written on my heart. At death beds, in nursing homes, for funerals, from Sunday school days, this Psalm, perhaps the best loved and most recited, is a kind of comfort blanket, cradling our souls. It is easy and tempting to slide over this one niggling verse about enemies, wedged in, between appealing images of God's comforting support and God's anointing. I incline more toward cups overflowing than breaking bread with enemies.
But there it is. Are you kidding, God? You are hosting a repast for enemies to break bread together? Really? Yes, really. It's enough to make one's stomach churn. How unappetizing. And yet, there it is, indisputably: God spreads the welcome table right smack dab in the midst of those we find unsavory.
New Testament scholar Walter Wink got it. He was wont to say, "You can't get to heaven unless you walk arm in arm with your enemy." Louise Dagrafinried, a 73-year old grandmother, from Tennessee, got it, too. When an escaped inmate, wielding a rifle, threatened her and her husband, Louise told him guns were not allowed in her house. She then invited him in, pulled out her best linens, and prepared for him a spread of bacon, eggs, toast, and hot coffee. Members of the Bereaved Parents Circle get it, too. Palestinians and Israelis, they have come together, bridging the deep chasm of enmity, to embrace each other in their common suffering. Each bears the unspeakable anguish of having lost loved ones to the violence of the on-going hostilities. And now they walk arm in arm, refusing to be enemies.
Sunday, September 21 is international peace day, a good day to remember that the table God prepares before us is in the presence, the company, of our enemies. "Come right in," God says, "Sit right down."
Holy one, your seating plan is a bit startling, it is true. Help us to pull our chairs up to your welcome table, to join hands and break bread with all, in the spirit of love and reconciliation.