“Come and set the table, dinner’s almost ready.” Those are words I remember from my childhood, how about you? Our mom would call us in from playing outside, and we were to help set the table for dinner. It was something we were expected to do. A way we were taught to be servants too. Servants of a greater good. We couldn’t make the dinner. But at least we could set the table. And so we learned where the fork, and knife, and spoon went; where the napkins and the glasses went; the salt and pepper and the butter dish. The dinner was always served at the table, after we kids had done our part. It was our family’s ritual at the end of the day.
A meal is at the center of the Exodus story: God tells his people to eat a meal of lamb together, the night before their escape from Egypt. Put the lamb’s blood over the doorway to mark their homes, so that the angel of death will know to “pass over” their homes, and spare their families. Eat the meal with shoes and hats on, ready to move at a moment’s notice. It’s exodus time; time to be freed from slavery. Jesus and his disciples ate that same meal centuries later, now called the “Passover meal” – remembering together what God had done. For centuries Jewish families have been eating the Passover Seder together; Jewish moms saying to their kids, “Come and set the table. Dinner’s almost ready.”
Jesus and his friends shared that meal the night before he was crucified. He’d been telling his friends all along what God was going to do next (and why), but it fell on deaf ears. Now he would show them instead. And during the meal, to their surprise, as they reclined around the table, Jesus washed their feet.
“This is what it’s been all about, all along” he was saying, “Nothing more. All the teaching, all the stories, all the miracles. It’s all about this. This is what it means to be a follower.” It’s about servanthood: washing feet, setting the table, making room. This is what love looks like, he was saying.
Being of service to others, no matter who they are, no matter what they are, is what it means to follow the way of Jesus; what it means to live his example. Being of service to the community, in whatever way we find best for ourselves our time and ability. That’s what Jesus always comes back to. I think of the amazing CNAs, the orderlies and nurses at the Alzheimer’s unit where Inge Pedersen lives in Bountiful: lifting, changing, bathing, assisting, and feeding the people entrusted to their care. That’s loving as Christ loves us. I think of the volunteers and staff at the Road Home: preparing, cleaning, organizing, getting ready for the hundreds of people to come inside again for a bed for the night. Then doing it all again the next day, and the next, and the next. Seven days a week. That’s what love looks like too.
When I think of community service I think of Deen Eskridge here at Mount Tabor. He and his wife Marilyn have lived here in Salt Lake and been members of Mount Tabor for over 50 years. Deen served the community of Salt Lake City as a Law enforcement officer with the Police department. He started his career in 1956, working the graveyard shift from 10pm to 6am, walking the streets of the central business district. When he finished his career, he was the Deputy Chief of Police in Charge of Operations and had literally created the first Police Academy in Salt Lake City.
“Build an Academy for me!” said the Chief. And Deen did it. The Academy was and is, his pride and joy. In that way, he said, he could make the changes he always wanted to make. In his role as a public servant, Deen was an innovator. Not only did he build the Academy itself, he began the Impaired Driver Program getting drunk drivers off the road, and served 10 years in the Sex Crimes Unit. And he will tell you always, that he owes that opportunity to serve to his wife Marilyn, who devoted herself to raising their kids as a stay at home mom while Deen worked graveyards every day for two years without a day off between school and work. Because of Marilyn’s support, Deen was able to earn his degree in Criminal Justice from Weber State, and begin to bring the changes he saw that were needed to the Salt Lake Police Department.
Deen remembers all the years he took his post at 5am for the Days of ’47 parade at the corner of State and Main, and getting home at midnight. As a servant of the public’s safety, and steward of the public’s resources, Deen put in 12 hours of work for 8 hours of pay. Although he could’ve been Chief of Police, Deen never wanted the job. “Too political” he says. “Gotta play the game with all the other City leaders.” And Deen says he was “never one to look the other way.” His greatest joy as an officer, he says, was getting to help so many people.
As a servant of the community in the way of Jesus, Deen always stood for his principles. He lives his faith. To him, public service, meant doing what’s right. And every day, he knew he’d done right when he could look himself in the eye in the mirror.
This, and so many other ways, is what love looks like. Love that is willing to serve the common good. Love that is willing to do what is right, no matter how humble the task, for the greater good. That’s the love we are fed at Tabor’s roundtable every Sunday: the meal that strengthens our hearts and souls to serve.
This Sunday, the table is set again. It’s time to wash, touch the water of our baptism, then come and eat. Our God is ready to fill us with good things again, so we can be the blessing God intends us to be.