“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” – Psalm 23:5
In 1983, our congregation welcomed a new member named Ray. Unlike the others who joined that year, Ray had never been to worship. He had never attended Sunday school, or sung in the choir, or played on the softball team. And in the years since, Ray has still never set foot in Gainesville, though he lives only 45 minutes away.
Ray’s home is a 6-foot by 9-foot cell on Florida’s Death Row. It was from this tiny room that he joined our community three decades ago.
On Death Row, you have to adjust to eating among those who consider you an enemy. While our church knows Ray as a loving son, an artist, a man of faith and an unfailing thank you note-writer, to the state, he is known only as a convicted murderer. Eating three meals a day around those who see you in such a light must be exhausting.
But on that day in 1983, the church Moderator and the Senior Minister, Rev. Larry Reimer, were allowed to share communion with Ray in the prison. I wasn’t around, but I like to imagine that meal. Bread and juice shared in a nondescript visitation room; a table prepared by those who considered him a friend; a feast hosted by the God who knows Ray as beloved child.
32 years is a long time to subsist on a piece of bread and a swig of juice, but I hope that goodness and mercy have followed Ray through the many gates, and doors, and loops of razor wire that separate us. And I know that one day we will dwell in God’s spacious house together.
Great Host, teach us to set a feast of love for all people.
Vince Amlin is Associate Minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida.