You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. – Psalm 23:5 (NRSV)
If a steaming dish of buttery mashed potatoes is part of the dinner spread, you’d best believe I’ll be returning for a second helping during the meal. Same is true with the sourest Pennsylvania Dutch sauerkraut. Also corn-on-the-cob at peak ripeness. And fresh-from-the-vine summer tomatoes. And soft, juicy pears that drip down the chin.
And if fudge pie is on the menu for dessert? Jesus help me, I’ll be coming for seconds and thirds. Good food gets me singing and swaying and returning for more.
Too bad that’s not the abundantly prepared table of Psalm 23. There are ample green pastures, clean still waters, right paths, anointing oil—all good gifts, to be sure—but no mashed potatoes. No sauerkraut. No corn or tomatoes or pears. And no fudge pie.
The psalmist’s thanksgiving and awe are not inspired by the table’s spread (alas) but by its location: in the riskiest and least comfortable place imaginable, surrounded by folks with ill intent. The psalmist’s deep gratitude is a response to the Shepherd’s invitation: “Here, beloved, sit in peace and dine without worry.”
A Holy Host, rather than a Holy Chef. A reassurance, rather than a menu. A gift that aims to fill the spirit instead of the belly: a gift of peace no matter the turmoil, a head-held-high assurance that no one—not even your worst enemy—can keep you from God’s abundance.
That’s a table worth returning to for seconds.
For the peace that tastes better than fudge pie, O Gracious Host, thank you.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.