The Presbyterian Church in America’s General Assembly is June 12-16 in Greensboro, NC. The week’s theme is “Come to the Table.” The phrase itself comes from the sentiment in the Parable of the Narrow Door in Luke 13:22-30 which reads,
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
I began a project last spring to write a sonnet for the Assembly to be used as the organizers saw fit. I was encouraged to have been asked and set about exploring the themes of the parable.
At first I wanted to understand the parable which (as many of Jesus’ parables are) a little distressing. The first two poems I wrote were to understand the meaning of parable itself. The first sonnet concerned itself with the door itself.
The Narrow Door 1
Someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
And Jesus perceiving, told a parable of a door.
“Do all you can, strive to find your way through
Into the King’s presence and peace forevermore.”
“Be wary, the door shall not always stay open,
And many will come late expecting they’re in.
And even though they’ve listened, supped, and broken
Bread at a table, yet they remain what they had been.”
Though the door is narrow its beauty now I see:
Through its humble casing, I cannot carry pride;
Its head’s as tall as a man hung on a tree;
Its sill spans the breadth of his arms open wide.
Through this door all are welcome, are seated with a ring.
To find plenty of room and fullness at the table of our King.
In the second sonnet I further considered the door. In the first, I imagined what the door what it was, how wide and high. In the second, I tried to imagine the sorts of doors beyond which one may be shut. This poem is a bit more personal to me. The parable’s exclusive message cuts against our contemporary inclusivity and opportunity. Nevertheless, lines are and will be drawn. Doors will be opened and closed, and though it may seem harsh, there is no way around it. The parable’s irony is viewed when one reads it through the lens of Jesus. Jesus himself is one who will be shut into the darkness by a door — he who should’ve had every door open to him. Yet in obedience to the Father and love for the ‘shut out,’ he laid down his privilege that he might take our place. As I considered that irony, I also considered the apparent hopelessness of the stone door of a tomb. How final did that door’s closing seem?
The Narrow Door 2
“Will those who are saved be few?” a man asked.
“Will you by the narrow door make your way in?
Will you in humility, serve, be last?
Or set your conditions, remain in your sin?”
“But what if that door is closed, sealed tight?
What if it’s too late? What if life has withdrawn?
What if the darkness overcomes the light?
Is there hope beyond hope? Hope yet for the dawn?”
The Greatest has come, has departed as least;
Though favored with fame, was abandoned by fans;
He offered himself a sacrifice and a feast,
And opens a new door through the marks of his hands.
To His table be welcomed, come all East and West
Where the unknown are exalted; the weary, given rest.
Since the theme was not “come through the door” but the Come to the Table, I began to imagine the sorts of tables from which the Lord called his disciples and calls us. The account of the calling of Levi away from his tax collecting booth and to host Jesus at a dinner table captured my imagination. The Pharisees who are scandalized by the scene of this dinner party reminded me of the table of Psalm 23 in which we are promised that the Lord sets a table before me “in the presence of mine enemies.”
He stopped at my table, stood and stared
At me and the extorted wealth I’d taken;
He discerned in me how poor and scared
That my collector’s kingdom would fin’lly be shaken.
He called, “Follow me.” I arose and followed after,
Abandoned booth and scales, cast them each aside,
And welcomed to my home light and love and laughter;
No longer marking other’s debts in the ledger of my pride.
And reclining with this Rabbi, at the table of the least
While my betters stood despising, scoffing from outside,
My Master “in the presence of mine enemies” set a feast
Of lordly leisure and promise: to never leave my side.
My mission now is to carry news, calling from east and west,
“Come to the table of this King, be found, be filled and rest.”
Lastly, I settled on considering the sorts of tables to which God has called his people and around which he has gathered them. Specifically, I was captivated by the table upon which Abraham was to offer Isaac, the tables around which the Israelites gathered in Egypt at Passover, and the table to which Jesus instituted the Last Supper to which he invites us to “come and taste that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).
Come to the Table
“Come to the table my son, my laughter,
Take wood and knife and let us walk away
Up into His provision.” When Isaac calls after,
“Without a lamb? Do we only go to pray?”
“Come to the table;” stand packed and waiting
Holding your staff, eating pilgrim’s bread
List’ning to the stories of God’s emancipating
Which leaves the darkened kingdom’s firstborn dead.
“Come to the table; long have I waited
To celebrate this Passover with you;
Which I give and pour in love consecrated:
The meal of my body, my body to renew.”
“I am the narrow door, the ram provided, the lamb, slain;
Come you humble, to my table, be filled, rejoice, and reign.”
If helpful, here is an playlist in which you may listen to me read each of the poems.
© Randy Edwards 2016.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.