I can picture the Father now pacing in the banquet hall.
His sandaled feet tread up and down seamless marble floors, laid not for Him, but by Him. The room is bright and bathed in rays of light coming from the sun above the open aired ceiling. He loves this room, it’s always day, always light, and this room, a room for fullness and celebration is always warm.
Robes of crisp linen, clean and white, untouched by filth or failure envelop Him and the intentionality of His walk creates a heavenly wind that causes them to gently flow behind Him as goes. He calls every servant of His house to the edge of the long, rich wooden banquet table and demands they set it to perfection. Moving quickly and with only the echoing sounds of clinking silverware and porcelain plates to fill the room, they begin to prepare the table as instructed.
The finest plates the Father owns are laid out. They are not quite white but not quite cream, they feel like earth and life, and they sit, not flat but with a slightly rounded edge, so they can be filled to the brim and not spill over. Rainbow tinted prisms of light reflect off glasses so clean they don’t bear a single smudged fingerprint of imperfection. Forks, spoons, and knives lay to the right of each plate and they sit perfectly spaced and poised for purpose, as if their very existence hinges only on their moment of use. Delicately folded napkins blanket the plates, and on top of them a tiny place card, each baring the name of a child of His own making.
When the work is done and the table is set and complete, He asks His servants to leave the hall. He stands positioned in the middle of the table, His solid, steady hands resting on the high backs of each of the large wooden chairs on either side of Him. He inhales as He looks over each of the names at the place settings and leans into the chairs as He feels a heavy weight in His chest, not the questioning weight of uncertainty, but of the full awareness of knowing everything. He exhales and the wind that leaves His nostrils fills the room with an atmosphere of both heartbreak and celebration.
“Bring them in!” He calls, and though He did not raise His voice, it thunders throughout every room.
The ornate double doors that separate the banquet hall from the rest of His rooms swing open, and sons and daughters begin to spill in. Some walk slowly, hesitant and timid as they search for their names at the table, others run with bold confidence to the seats they know have been prepared for them.
The Father stands and watches, joy emanating from every aspect of His being, as His sons and daughters take the seats He has spent an eternity preparing for them. He listens to the sound of wood scraping marble, as they use the hands that His hands crafted to pull back the chairs that His hands built just the same. One after another they pour in and take their seats, many at first, but as time passes the flow of sons and daughters through the door stops. He knows that everyone who is coming has taken their seats.
Before He motions to His servants to bring the feast, He turns quietly away and sobs for a moment to Himself. He notices every place prepared with an empty chair, every seat not taken, and He grieves knowing that they chose not to come.
He collects Himself, smiles, and welcomes His children home with a mighty voice that demands attention and awe, and yet blankets the room with peace and comfort unimaginable. He can rejoice for His sitting sons while lamenting for His missing ones. They deserve His celebration, and with a swift motion of His hand, the feast is carried in on trays of gold so pure they reflect everything around them.
As they bring the feast and set it before them at the table, something curious begins to happen. Some of the sons and daughters are getting up from their prepared places and leaving. Some quietly, some loudly, some in anger, some in sadness, and some, with no reaction at all almost from the moment they sit, standing to leave. The servants stare bewildered at them as they go. They know how much time the Father spent preparing for their arrival, how in love He demanded His best be laid out for them, and they can’t understand why they wouldn’t stay when the table will soon be full of every good and perfect thing to feed them.
The Father makes no effort to stop them, sons and daughter will do what sons and daughters will do. He loves them too much to force them to stay, but with the very same measure of love He aches as they go. He takes His seat at the head of the large table and He begins to feast and celebrate with His children…all the while, rejoicing when one sits, and weeping when one leaves.
Sometimes, I ache when I picture Him there. Longing for His sons and daughters to sit, weeping when they go, rejoicing when they return. I weep, because I was a daughter who chose to leave. I was raised knowing a place had been prepared for me, and when it was time I took my seat with everyone else. Honesty demands I say that something at the table always seemed to be missing for me. The truth is, while many sit and find fullness, if you don’t know how to look for it, you’'ll never see it…and I just never saw it. I weep thinking of all the years I sat at my Father’s table, starving and convinced He would never feed me...blinded to what lay just before me.
It’s not hard to leave what you don’t know you have, so when I began to hear the distant but continual invitation to leave and join a new table, it is no surprise that I eventually I stood, crumpled the place card on which His very hands penned my name, and walked away.
The voice I heard drew me to loneliness by way of selfishness. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was a beckoning to join the enemy disguised as an invitation to focus on myself. He’s a master of subtlety. He knows you’d never willing sit at his table, so makes it your own idea to join him…with simple thoughts that feel like your own, but often run in opposition to your true character. Low, selfish mutterings of a heart trapped in conflict. His voice is sweet and thick like poison honey, and each word lures you into obsidian, a dark place where you don’t want to go, but can’t help but walk. Every step that you take draws you deeper and deeper into yourself and farther and farther from your Father’s table, and it isn’t long before you eventually begin to lose your way.
Once you arrive at the dark place that he has called you, he motions for you to take a seat at his table. Before you sits a finely prepared table with all the trappings of self-indulgence. Sexuality, vanity, greed, wealth, power, and more, and seeing it now, so readily available awakens a hunger deep within your belly that you didn’t know existed. Everything within you begins to call you to consumption.
“Go ahead…eat.” He whispers and his voice calls to something instinctual inside of you…something carnal.
You finally sit and tie a napkin around your neck, a napkin that will soon become a noose. You start small with little morsels of self-seeking desire, but instead of filling you up, they only make the beast in your belly hungry for more.
“More…more…more…” he quietly whispers over your shoulder and you oblige, desperately seeking the fullness that this table looked like it would provide. It is a vicious cycle, because what he knows that you don’t is that self cannot satisfy self, no matter how much it eats.
Hand over fist you begin feasting on the platter of deception he’s laid out before you, a glutton of your own desires. He is so tricky though. You do not realize that as you have been busy feasting, he has been busy watching, and now, with you too full of yourself to notice, fattened on your own carnality and empty of value, he sits down next to you to eat too. Only he is not interested in devouring the platter, but the person who is busy consuming it.
Instead of fullness at my enemy’s table, I found myself fattened unto death with self-indulgence and sick at the woman I’d become. Too fat and depressed to move, I conceded my life to my desires and resigned myself to the fate I had welcomed when I chose to leave my Father’s table and sit at this one. There is a moment when you find yourself at the table of the enemy, where you must decide: eat one more bite and surely die, or muster every bit of strength that you posses to put down the fork and eat no more. That was the hardest moment of my life. Too weak to run from the table my indulgence had shackled me to, I simply knelt down beside it and cried. With no strength to call for help, all that came from within me were the sobs of a long-broken woman with no hope of a future.
And then, in the most indescribable moment of my existence, the softest, sweetest whisper of a Father longing for His lost daughter would call out to me and say,
“You still have your seat at my table if you want it.”
I was so far, and still I heard Him call to me. With no strength to say I wanted it, only the secret desire of my heart saying it for me, something miraculous happened. I looked up to see the Son of my Father coming to save me. He walked to me and though I must have looked like death and smelled like shame, He scooped me up into His arms and began to carry me home to His Father’s table.
As He carried me in, though I was dirtier and more broken than ever before, my eyes were opened to see what they’d never seen…the table I’d spent my life sitting at that seemed to lack everything was now filled beyond belief. All I wanted was laid out before me, mine for the taking. In Him, I had access to the fullness I’d always wanted, and unlike the enemy’s table, it would cost me no piece of myself to have it.
The Son sat me in my seat, pushing my chair softly in and directing my attention to the place card below me. It was wrinkled and bent, but it was mine. He’d picked it up when I left, knowing He would bring me home. He wanted me to know my seat was always my seat, whether I wanted to sit in it or not.
I wept. There are no words for the way I wept. I shifted my gaze to the head of the table where I knew my Father sat. His eyes met mine, and suddenly I was aware of how dirty I must have been. I looked down in shame, only to see, the dirty, sin stained robes I’d been carried in wearing were gone, and what replaced them were bright, new robes of white. So clean and pure that they reflected the beauty of the Father staring back at me. To His right, His Son who carried me in, stood holding my stained garments in His hands.
Tears streamed down the Father’s cheeks as He watched me tenderly spoon the feast He’d always wanted me to partake in onto my plate. Bits at first and then heapings. There was such joy and pleasure on His face as He watched, and as I laughed at my eager participation, I knew, all He’s wanted all along was fellowship with me. He wanted me to love Him as He loved me and spend our days together feasting at His table.
It occurred to me that very moment, and still does every day, that true fellowship with Him, the marriage of my heart and will in His hand, is a small price to pay to be able to sit with my Father at His table for the rest of my days.
I wake every day and try and live in that moment. Never forgetting the day I was rescued from the shadows and carried back to His table. It is the prayer of my life that I can show every son and daughter how to see what is laid out before them, before they choose in their deception, thinking their table of fullness is nothing but lack, to leave for a table that brings only death.
Two tables have been set.
Two seats have been prepared for you.
I sat at both and found that one offered me everything and One lacked nothing, and though they sound the same, those are two very different things.