See them, so many of them, from all ages and all times. In their hearts there are questions, in their eyes, sometimes, there are tears, but they move forward, forward, towards the table, for they know there is no other place to go.
From back in the mists of time they come. See the old woman, her long years of self-doubt bursting forth in a moment of incredulous laughter, now holding the child who is so precious, and so impossible, that even his name means laughter. She comes. See the young man, whose brothers have learned to hate him because he would not know his place as the youngest (bar one) and the least. They have stripped his beautiful coat away, and befouled it to prove their lies, and he himself has been sold as a slave, and must trudge in desolation the weary miles to Egypt. He comes.
So does the man, forty years old, fleeing through the desert to Midian, and trying to understand where it all went wrong. He had wealth and he had privilege, and he wanted to serve his people. But somehow his anger and violence had been the worst thing he could have done for them, and now his name is murderer. He sees no future for himself except as a herder of sheep at the back of the desert.
And this woman, making a comfortable living as a prostitute, who has decided that her city and people have no future, and has chosen to throw in her lot with an alien people and their God. She places a scarlet cord in the window, and waits for the fated moment. She comes.
And still they come. Out of the myriads one can only notice a few individuals. See the little boy, sleeping alone in the temple, and missing the warm arms of his mother. A voice calls him by name in the night, and he learns to say ‘yes, Lord.’ In those words lies his whole future, his whole journey.
See the king, undone by the horror of his own guilt, crying out his wretchedness in a Psalm. See the prophet, so sure he knew all about godliness, undone by a single moment of vision. How could he ever have imagined that he himself was holy when the merest glimpse of God has utterly overthrown him. See another king, with the cruel enemy before his gates, crying out to God for mercy on his foolish, sinful city, and waking in the morning to find the angel of the Lord has been at work. And then, further on still, the young men, the captives, who refuse to worship the image of the earthly glory of a pagan king, and must face the horror of the fire. All of these come, pressing on, because they have nowhere else to go in their neediness and hunger.
And there are more. Shepherds shaken into a new reality by a sky full of angels. Lame people, deaf people, blind people, lepers, even, incredible though it sounds, dead people! A young Pharisee, falling from his horse in the heat of the day, and learning, through 3 days of blindness, just how blind he had been. He comes, and in his wake come a multitude, sentenced to death in cruel and grotesque ways, that the slavering crowd might know a moment’s amusement. After them come the faithful and the confused, the frightened, the lonely and the ones who sing with joy. They come and they keep on coming, and the sound of their song is like the roar of many waters, and as tender as the moment when a tear is wiped away.
They come to the table. Turn them away and their souls will starve. There is only one table, though it may be found in many places, and only one Living Bread from which all may freely eat – their daily bread, doled out with nail-pierced hands. They come and they eat, from Him who is the manna in their wilderness, and the only life which sustains them. Through pain and bitterness, through fear and many questions, they come, they eat, and the song within them is renewed. And as they come and eat they wait for the day when the doors are swung open and they enter the banqueting hall, and the eternal marriage supper is begun.