There is a sacred space in your home, potentially as important to the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of your family as your local church.  It is your table.

“The table is the place of intimacy,” Henri Nouwen says, “the place where we discover each other,” and learn “how was your day?” Of course, it is a place of sustenance, where our families get the nutrition they need to flourish.  But it is also a place of laughter, smiles and tears.

God created the altar for the people of Israel as a type of table. There were all kinds of offerings under the Mosaic Law, presented at the altar, the most famous of which were burnt offerings and sin offerings. These were given to atone for the sin of the people and to point forward to the ultimate blood atonement through Christ. Yet, there was also the gift or thank offering, a voluntary offering by which the people could come to the altar and express thankfulness to God. It was the only offering where the offeror could share in the sacrifice, eating part of it. In this way, it was a type of meal, an opportunity to sit at the table with the Lord Himself.

Christ shared His life with His disciples at the table, a place of love, of washing of feet, of great teaching and discipleship, and of betrayal.  Communion, the Lord’s Supper, is our opportunity to join in that feast at the table (even if we’re not actually at one). This gathering points us backward to remembrance of what Christ did for us, joining people who would otherwise be enemies of God and each other as family forever. Communion also points us forward to another gathering at the table, at the end of time, when we will physically, literally gather and eat and drink and celebrate the end of this life with all its trials and pain, and all the ways we held true to the gospel of Jesus, as we sit with our family in His presence in a place and time when all things are new.

And, every night we sit in our homes, gathered around the table, celebrating the day, we point toward that final, glorious day.

The table is the place we extend hospitality; where friendships are initiated and forged and (if we’re disciples of Jesus) the Other is welcomed. It is where lifetime partners are joined once and for all, and where we share with others the stories of Christ living and active in our own lives, testimonies that bear witness to the healing, transformational power of the King of Kings, and which serve as an invitation to a greater way of life. It’s also a place to listen to other’s stories, to hear their joys and pain, not to challenge or denigrate or minimize or explain away, but to truly know and to understand, which itself is an act of love.

The table is the place of instruction, the place where for years my family played “best thing/worst thing,” each family member sharing their joys and challenges for the day, which became the outlet and opportunity to teach God’s Word into their lives in relevant ways. The table creates the space for training kids in the knowledge and love of Christ, and in the ways of the Lord.

Not all tables are places of joy, because the table is a barometer for the family itself. Nouwen says that “precisely because the table is the place of intimacy for all the members of the household, it is also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most powerfully revealed.” Cups and plates can become instruments of service or violence.

But the table of one’s family of origin does not have to be one’s own.  Jesus heals and saves and makes all things new, and surrender to Him makes tables flourish.  What were once desecrated spaces can become sacred again.

The table is a sacred space; other than worship the most important liturgy in which a family can engage. The enemy and the flesh distract us from what is sacred. Activities and busyness pull us from the table, as do screens, technology, and other distractions. As is true for all liturgies, they are a discipline, a repetitive practice, something that saying “yes” to requires saying “no” to something else. Yet, there is very little else good in life to compare to the table to form the heart of a disciple, a family, or a child.

Is your table sacred? Is it a place where people are safe? Is it a place of peace and love? A place of instruction? Or, is it an empty, dusty place, just a nice piece of furniture? Is it a place where the Other is not just welcome, but often welcomed? Is the name of Jesus spoken at your table? Your table is the greatest ministry of your life. What’s happening at yours?

Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.