The table where our righteous hopes are realised

7 May 2017

We are accustomed to thinking that the Hebrews fled Egypt and arrived in the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness. It is more likely that 40 years is simply a metaphor for a lifetime as 40 represents a great number of years. It may even mean a lifetime. Three score years and ten was as long as anyone could expect to live, but the average life expectancy was probably around the two score years mark ie 40. So people were born, grew up, were married and died in the wilderness, they knew nothing else.

It is also possible that settlement in Canaan or the surrounding territories was a hit and miss affair. There may have been some settlement, then expulsion followed by another period of wandering until eventually the land was conquered or settlement was more permanent. Some scholars believe that there was no single period of time from flight from Egypt to arrival in Canaan on a permanent basis.

A number of Psalms and other writings refer to the time in the wilderness. Ps 78.19 speaks of a table being prepared in the wilderness (ie the table is in the future). Ps 23.5 tells us that the table is already spread out before the people.

Whatever the historical accuracy, the Psalms notes the experience of the slave and refugee. God has a heart for those held captive to economic oppression and for those who flee from it or are expelled from a place they had called home. In the time between flight and arrival God is the one who guides, comforts and provides for the one in transit.

And the promise is fulfilled for the table in which the people hoped for in Psalm 78 is now set before them in Psalm 23.

We can bear all this in mind over the next month as politicians vie for our votes in the coming Gen Election and how those fleeing economic oppression, religious persecution and warfare are lumped together as ‘swarms of migrants’, to quote the former PM, or, as others might have it, foreigners taking our jobs, filling our A&E waiting rooms and taking up our school places.

Last month I had the privilege of coordinating a Faiths Festival in Lincoln which brought all the faiths across the city together in exhibitions, coach trips and the sharing of food.

One of the exhibitions was from Touchstone Bradford. A Methodist inter faith project that works with Muslim women and produced amazing rugs that tell the story of their weavers. One particular rug caught my eye. It was produced by refugee women. On the one side was a mass of yellow and a barren tree representing the desert from which they had fled. In the middle was a mass of blue representing the sea across which they had travelled with oval shapes for boats complete with tiny buttons; one for each of the women making the rug. To the other side was a tree in a meadow – the Promised Land – Bradford.

We can hear all of this; we can even be moved by it.  But what does this table that was promised now spread before us say to us in the here and now? What was it that we had hoped for and is now right before our eyes? Do we see what it is? Do we know to what it refers?

It will differ of course from one person to the next; what is hopeful for one may be something already enjoyed by others:

  • Maybe a family that is ‘normal’; a parent that takes note of achievements; where the threat of violence is not present.
  • Maybe a sense of purpose where it’s good to wake in a morning and know that the day will be a fulfilling one.
  • Maybe anything taken for granted yet denied someone else.

Yet those who hoped for something that has now come into being, when it is a righteous hope, is a true miracle of God.

For the Hebrews that were slaves – freedom.

For those travelling through the wilderness hungry and thirsty – a banquet spread before them.

For those longing for a homeland – a secure nation where their child can grow up without fear of persecution and pogrom.

For 2000 years Jews, descendants of those Hebrews, longed to return to their ancestral lands, to the city where their Temple stood, to the holiest place on Earth.

Last Monday and Tuesday Jews around the World celebrated Israel Independence Day – in their eyes a true miracle of God.

For us we might look about us and consider where God spreads his table for us to enjoy the feast, where we might find God’s miracle.

Where we have somehow been travelling through a long dark night of sorrow and grief and woken to a new dawn where we can smell the newly-mown grass and hear the birds singing of their utter joy in life.

Where we have struggled to make sense of something only for the penny to drop at last.

Where we have felt unloved, unwanted and uncared for and then to feel the elation of being cherished for who we are and not what we thought we would have to become.

This is the table to which we are invited.

This is the table spread before us – a promise fulfilled – and it is one of welcome; it is one that is open to all; it is one of plenty.

Almost 20 years ago I was blessed with the opportunity of serving serve Kosova Albanian refugees fleeing the Serb onslaught in Kosova. 65 strangers became my neighbours and friends over a three year period before I was moved elsewhere in the country.

One story illustrates the openness and generosity of those one providing the table before us. Mrs L spoke through her son Amir acting as her interpreter. Amir told me that his mom wanted to invite me to a meal in their rooms. I replied that I would be delighted to accept and that when I had my diary we could arrange a mutually convenient date. Amir sheepishly translated for his mom my response. She looked concerned and said something quietly. Amir was reluctant to tell me what she had said. Eventually I got it out of him. Mrs L had said – ‘what sort of country is this that you can’t knock on your neighbour’s door and expect to be fed.’

Mrs L taught me a valuable lesson.  We can knock on God’s door at any time; we never have to arrange a mutually convenient time to call on God. The provision is such that all our righteous hopes are realised and indeed already present for us to partake.

So we nurture our righteous hopes – for here at this table God will meets our every need, quenches every thirst, satiates every hunger and turns our longing for the promise into reality.

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