Many years ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East and visit Israel, Jordan and Egypt. There were many wonders to see and some of you have seen a few of my photographs from that trip. While in Jordan we visited the ruins of the ancient city of Jerash (Gerasa in the New Testament). In the center of this city stood a large temple to Athena – the goddess of wisdom. In its day it must have been an amazing structure. It would have been a tall building, with columns and was probably gilded with plate gold. In front of the temple was a large courtyard. The only people who were allowed into the temple were a few priests, everyone else had to remain in the courtyard and hope that the goddess noticed them. The temple was holy ground. Normal, everyday, ordinary, mundane people were not permitted to step on holy ground.
In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus is, again, at table at the home of a Pharisee. In Luke, Jesus spends a lot of time eating at table. The table then serves as the place where Jesus teaches, blesses, heals, admonishes and tells stories. It is not surprising then that it is at table, on the night before he was betrayed, that Jesus gave his disciples his final teaching and blessings; and it is not surprising that the church has placed so much importance on the remembering of this. It is also not surprising that it was at table that Jesus was revealed to two of his disciples as the risen Lord, following the crucifixion, on the road to Emmaus. At table is one important place where God chooses to break into our world and into our lives.
What is the significance of this? What is more mundane than being at table, eating a meal? It something we all must do several times a day. Even in our day of fast food, and eating on the run. Nevertheless these are experiences “at table.” And it is in the midst of these types of mundane, ordinary and simple experiences that we experience God’s presence. We do not have to go to a “holy place,” and stand in the courtyard of the house of a god, hoping that we will be noticed in our supplication. No, God comes to us in the midst of the ordinary and the mundane. God stands with us when are at our most vulnerable and fragile; God stands beside us and is there when we least expect Him.
We call these experiences “Sacramental,” because they are an experience of God’s presence breaking into the midst of our lives. We all have many Sacramental experiences each day, even if we do not notice them. The liturgy for healing – the coming forth for the laying on of hands and anointing with oil are also “sacramental” experiences. It is not a “holy” event in a “holy” place, designed to produce some kind of magical experience. It is rather the sign that God has come into this ordinary place, and touches us in the midst of our lives with the assurance that He is with us, will not abandon us and will always be working to bring healing and wholeness to our lives.