"You have prepared a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me."(Ps 23:5)
Tables are one of the most commonplace features of everyday life. Places where many kinds of work take place, where people sit to eat, gather to talk, negotiate deals or play games. Tables stand at the centre of family relationships, and at the heart of the encounter with God in worship. Humans being invented the table and re-invented it in a multitude of forms and functions with endless creativity.
The word 'invention' is derived from a Latin word meaning 'to find out'. Humans have found out something essential and necessary to help sustain relationships that comes from the mind of God. Human creativity emulating God's has taken His thought and brought its many forms in being.
The Psalmist doesn't stop with the notion that God has prepared a table for us. God's creative act is given a context, 'in the presence of those who trouble me'.
Who troubles us? Those we don't know how to trust, or understand. When any sort of meeting begins, with friend of stranger, there are only looks, empty space and silence between us and them. Until that space is filled with greetings or any other kind of social exchange, before trust and communication is established and the rest of the encounter evisaged, there is a moment of apprehension, a moment of discomfort. However speedily this moment may be dispatched by our social skill and experience, the moment before a meeting begins is troublesome.
That is perhaps why tables feature so prominently in trading, in diplomacy and politics, a God given artefact filling the void, providing a position in which those who meet can safely know where they start from.
Whether a church community meets to worship God literally around a table, or else near a table, it serves as a focal point for that troubling encounter with the One who is present, but not visible. It is the place God has provided for us in all dimensions of life, and at the heart of discipleship, where we may learn to open our hearts fearlessly in trust and humility, despite our apprehensions.
What we rehearse thoughtfully in prayer holds good for every other table meeting place in everyday life. It's beautifully summed up in familiar words.
"We do not presume to come to this thy table O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies."