United Church of Christ

Into the Mystic: The Mercy Table

This week's podcast suggests that Mercy Tables would be a very valuable asset everywhere, to help bring peace to the world. 

While visiting recently with members of the Egyptian Parliament and members of their consulate, we were told a story of how Ramadan is celebrated in Egypt.

As the sun sets at the end of every day of the Holy Season for Muslims, tables are placed in the streets. At the table can be found neighbors from anywhere and everywhere. No one asks why anyone is there, and whoever shows up is fed.

Once at the table, no one asks who you are or where you are from or why you are there. The gathered may, and likely does, include Muslims - but it will just a likely include many who are not.

Some of these tables are small, with only a few gathered.  But some can see hundreds, and even thousands seated for a meal together.

The young man telling us this story of the mercy table was proud of this practice. He used this story of kindness and table fellowship as part of a larger point he was   making. In Egypt, he observed, no one asks you what religion you practice. Your name will not give you away as a practicing Jew, Christian, or Muslim. Your race will not either.

In Egypt, there is pride in being called simply an Egyptian. And when you sit at a table together, all are fed and welcome.

Later that night, the entire delegation of US leaders and members of the Egyptian consulate and Parliament sat at a dinner table. We laughed and told stories, gave speeches and took pictures well into the late evening.

As I rose to speak, I remembered the story told earlier in the day of the mercy table. I realized as I stood that I had just been welcomed at a new table with no regard for whom I worshiped or how I practiced my faith. I remember something my mother always told me: her primary goal as a mother was to send her children away with the certain knowledge that no matter who or where they were or what they had done, there would always be a seat for us at her table. And so, as I stood to thank my guests, I spoke about the joy of being welcomed as family at a new table, of the experience of becoming family as we broke bread together where mercy was practiced, and all were welcome.

As a Christian, I often gather at table with others and remember another breaking of the bread.  This past Sunday, I sat with my wife Mimi in our home church as we shared a simple piece of bread and drank from a common cup. I heard once again the words ‘no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.’ Our own mercy table was celebrated. No questions about whether we belong or how we got there or what we believed.

The world needs more of this: more mercy tables. More gathering as a family without borders, boundaries, or barriers.

We set too many tables for those who think and look and act and speak like us.

A way that Egyptians describe their mercy table is simply ‘building a house in heaven.’ Yes.

For Christians who often pray their God using the words ‘Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven,’ I suggest that we could go a long way to fulfilling that prayer by setting more mercy tables and, by doing so, building our little heaven on Earth.

I wish you all a good and pleasant day, gentle listeners. Wherever your journeys take you, many someone celebrate your coming by giving you a seat at their table. May you know the joy of another’s unadulterated hospitality on this, your journey Into the Mystic.


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