Altar: a table used for special or holy purposes.
Ever notice how every once in a while in the bible how God stops people and asks them to build an altar? God had Moses build one and Noah too, when he got out of the ark. In Genesis God asks Jacob to build an altar and Jacob is happy to oblige, maybe since his dad (Isaac) and his grandpa (Abraham) also got tapped by the creator of the universe to pile up some rocks.
So, what is God’s fascination with tables – whether they be made of wood or just a pile of rocks? Why does God need so many altars?
Unless God doesn’t need altars — and we are asked to build holy tables for our own sake. Altars get constructed to help people remember. Altars go up to mark and remember the places when they were rescued, encouraged, or provided what they needed. The essence of a worship service is a people gathered around a table being fed, with food and story, nourished physically and spiritually and then sent out to share what they’ve received. When’s the last time you built an altar?
Which leads me to the word I intend to explore this year. Each year I choose a word to focus on for the year. My word for 2020 is “remember.” I will choose to mark those altars/tables that have fed me and remember the lessons, dare I say the epiphanies, that have nourished me.
Remembering in Hebrew tradition is not just a thought of some past event. Remembering is an action, not something passive but a doing. Remembering is important because all stories contain truth – whether they really happened or not. Remembering creates community because all stories are about us all. And remembering reframes our present as the stories we hear are out to change us.
There have been special tables that mark important memories in my life these past five weeks. The adjustable and wheeled arm table that could hover over my hospital bed held the holy vessels that I needed at the time: a blue plastic spirometer, a sweaty pitcher of ice water, a chrome urinal, and the battery that my heart could be hooked up to in a jiffy in case it needed a jump start.
Saturday Prince of Peace held our first dinner church experiment. It was my first time back among my faith community. I had RSVP’d but for all of us who attended our real invitation was our hunger. Our hunger to be together face to face. Our hunger for holy community. Our hunger to hear stories of courage and bravery (the theme for the evening) in a brave space that we created - blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Those dinner tables Saturday were altars: because of the stories, the re-membering of the diners around the tables, and the bread and wine and nourishing bowls and cheesecakes. Something good (in the sense of Genesis 1) happened during dinner. And most signed up to come again in two weeks to be part of the next dinner church with the hopes that a friend will be able to join them.
We all went home a little more whole, with holy memories thanks to a round altar that seated seven guests.