A couple of weeks ago, I was having some personal worship time with the Lord when one of my current favorite songs came on. It’s the Upper Room version of “Surrounded” and I have sung it dozens of times, but this time, the opening lines struck me in a way they never had before.
“There’s a table you’ve prepared for me, in the presence of my enemies, it’s Your Body and Blood that’s shed for me, this is how I fight my battles.”
I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me, so I set myself to listen, and sure enough the words brought me back to Psalm 23 and to communion. As I meditated though, I started thinking about the Passover. Jesus famously celebrated the Passover with his disciples over dinner on the night He was betrayed, which is where we get the practice of communion. But first I want to look back at the very first Passover in Egypt.
You probably remember the story. After Joseph’s involuntary move to Egypt as a slave and then his rise to power through God’s favor, he brought his family from Canaan to live with him in Egypt during a devastating famine. Joseph later died though, and a new Pharaoh came to rise in power in Egypt who didn’t remember Joseph or know his fame. When this new Pharaoh saw how God was blessing the Israelites and causing them to multiply, he feared they would overpower them, so he made them into a nation of slaves. Their enslavement lasted hundreds of years until God raised up a Moses as a prophet from among the people to deliver them from bondage.
When the time came, Moses and his brother Aaron, under God’s instruction, gave Pharaoh every opportunity to cooperate and let the Israelites go worship their God in the desert. But when he wouldn’t budge, God sent plagues over the Egyptian people and their land. Finally, one last warning was given before the last devastating plague would strike. Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh that if he did not let the people go, every firstborn in the land of Egypt would die overnight (Exodus 11). At the same time, God commanded the children of Israel to kill a lamb and drain its blood. They were to smear the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses then eat the flesh inside that night. Moses told the people the blood on the door frame would be evidence of the distinction between Israel and Egypt.
Think about all of this in the context of Psalm 23 and communion. God prepared a table, hundreds of thousands of tables actually, for His people in the very literal presence of their enemies. But God was with them at the table. That’s what communion is all about, right? To commune -- to be with God and with each other. God knew they would be frightened. He knew they had never been where He was taking them, so He began the whole journey at a table, not just for them, but with them.
Let’s continue in the story centuries later to David, the psalmist who actually wrote these famous lyrics of God preparing a table for him in the presence of his enemies. He became the King of Israel, but at a point in his life before he actually took the throne, he found himself on the run. For his life.
David’s father-in-law and the current King of Israel at the time, Saul, was chasing David and trying to kill him. At the beginning of his time as a fugitive, David came upon the tabernacle and he was famished. The priest Abimelech was on duty and David wasn’t entirely honest when questioned about his mission. Then David negotiated with the priest for some bread. The only bread available that day was the showbread, which was holy. The Torah required it be placed on a gold table in the Tabernacle and only the priests were to eat it. Ever. David and the priest both knew this, but it didn’t stop either of them. David took it, ate it, and shared it with his men. Again, in less than ideal circumstances, God prepared a table for David as he was literally escaping from his enemies. But God was with him, communing, even and especially as he struggled to flee for his life.
Fast forward another few centuries to David’s descendant, King Jesus, and the Passover meal He celebrated with His disciples. Not long before the holiday, Jesus taught his followers they would have to eat His body and drink His blood (John 6). As you can imagine, that freaked out plenty of them out. They just couldn’t see themselves following Him anymore with this kind of speech. They couldn’t understand what He was saying. And they left.
Not too long after that, He set the table for his closest disciples. Then over dinner, He dropped the bomb that there was a traitor in their midst. An enemy. Again, He literally and very purposefully prepared a table for them to share in the presence of their enemies. Yet again, He was with them. They were in this whole thing together.
Most of us know how the events over the next few days played out. Jesus was betrayed by Judas who was under the influence of Satan and was taken willingly to be crucified. A sign hung on the cross where He died stating that He was the King of the Jews. His body was taken by some friends to a new tomb where it laid for three days until His spirit entered it again and He was resurrected into a glorified body. The days after this meal, at this table, changed all of history.
And then there was Peter. After the resurrection of their Friend and Pastor, Peter and some of the disciples decided to go fishing on the lake, just like the old days. Even though they were professional fishermen, they weren’t able to catch a thing on that particular morning. Not one fish. Then they noticed a guy on the shore who asked them how it was going. They admitted they hadn’t caught anything and He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They obeyed and the net filled up with so many fish they were barely able to haul it in. Peter realized in that moment it was Jesus who had been yelling to them, and he jumped out of the boat and swam to shore to meet Him. When they all came upon Jesus, they realized He was cooking breakfast for them! He had fish and bread on a fire waiting just for them.
On the night after the Passover meal, Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times just like He had predicted. But here, over this meal, Jesus gave him three chances to say just how much he loved Him. Peter told Jesus what was truly in his heart and Jesus heard Peter’s earnest response. Jesus replied by giving Peter instructions to take care of His followers. His sheep. He was commissioning Peter to be a shepherd in his own right. And all of this over breakfast. Over a meal. At a table Jesus had prepared for them and had eaten with them.
But where were the enemies this time? At this meal Jesus prophesied to Peter again, but this time it was about the kind of death he would face because of their relationship. Peter would become a martyr because he would chose death over denial this time. And I believe Peter knew Jesus would be with him even then. I believe he gained that kind of confidence over the many times they shared a table together.
God prepares a table for all of us in the presence of our enemies. It is His very own body and blood. And we can take comfort not only in the preparation of the table, but in the company during the meal. God is with us. He communes with us. He provides for us and stays with us in all of our journeys. From slavery to deliverance, He’s there. From anointing to assignment, He’s there. From doubt to death to resurrected life in Him, He’s there.