Making it to the table. I don’t mean as in gathering everyone together and having a meal together at the table. Although that’s nice, and important. Making it to the table – from the field. Being served. Not as in someone serving you. No, as in being put on a plate and being served to someone.
Ever see that Twilight Zone episode where the aliens come with a large mysterious book, and they ‘help’ mankind? The book is called ‘To Serve Man’. Everyone thinks they are there to serve and help the human race. In the end the book is revealed to be a cookbook. Literally, ‘To Serve Man’ because man is what’s on the menu. That kind of being served.
I’m in the middle of learning a profoundly difficult lesson. I don’t like it. I don’t want to learn this lesson. It’s not something I would ever sign up for, not voluntarily. It’s terrifying. It’s cumbersome. I cry a lot.
It starts with being planted as a seed. The seed pushed into ground, into the earth, buried in the dirt. Below the surface to grow roots that take hold and anchor it before it can push through the soil toward the sunlight. Before those roots can take hold though, the seed literally has to come apart. To break. To open and be destroyed, to come undone, so it can grow. After the seedling is watered and gets its proper amount of sunlight, it continues growing until ripe for harvest. Only in God’s timing are we, the seeds, the fruit, the grain, ready for harvest.
Galatians 6:9 So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.
Now harvest is intersting. Depending on the plant, harvest can be either very delicate and gentle or extremely violent.
Vineyards for instance are harvested at night, and are taken extra care of, making sure each individual grape is meticulously handled so as not to squish or bruise or damage the fruit. The cool of night helps keep the grape firm and cold, unsquished or leaking any juices. If harvested in the heat of day, the integrity of the fruit would be compromised.
Harvesting wheat however, isn’t gentle or fragile, it’s the complete opposite. It’s violent. A sickle or more commonly a machine combine is necessary to harvest the grain. After the stalk is cut down, it has to dry for a couple weeks before it is ready for threshing. Threshing seperates the grain from the chaff. Sometimes threshing a second time is necessary to release all the grain and get rid of the chaff. Then the seed is clean and ready for the ‘first break’. More suffering. More breaking.
Before these elements can be made into wine and flour they must continue through processes that pulverize, break, and crush to release all that the fruit and the grain has to offer. It is literally a process of breaking down. The wine has to ferment, and the wheat must be sifted.
We’ve come a long way from the state of a seed , yet we’re still not ready for the table. Not even close.
The wine ferments, ages, and finally is bottled and corked under extreme pressure waiting until it’s ready to be poured. The wheat is milled into perfected powdered flour, mixed with other ingredients, kneaded into dough and finally shaped and baked.
Once at the table, the bottle must be opened by releasing the cork and the immense pressure it has waited under. The wheat now a beautiful loaf of bread, has to be broken or cut into.
Both are served as a meal. For nourishment. Sustenance. Feast. Enjoyment.
When Jesus at the last supper with His disciples said, ‘This is my body, broken for you’ and ‘Drink from it, this is my blood’ -Matthew 26:26-30 He was literally referring to serving himself to nourish. To sustain. To enjoy and fellowship. Ultimately to bring life where there was death. Salvation. His suffering on the splintered cross, His body beaten, his flesh torn was served to His disciples, represented in the form of bread and wine, from stalk and vine. From seed to table, He offers Himself to us, for us. Aren’t we called to be like Jesus? That includes suffering and serving.
I always imagined suffering to be purifying, to be making us more like Christ. But I thought the ones who suffered most were the ones who needed more refining. I thought I was the bottom of the barrel and needed so much cleaning up, purifying, because I was so messed up. I viewed my suffering and necessary discipline, as correctional. I thought, well I guess I haven’t learned the lesson, ’cause here we go again. I never understood how connected it all is, how from seeds to table, it is all part of preparation.Training. Marinating. How careful and specific the preparation must be to produce the perfect end result. How much time the Farmer and the Chef have to care for and craft the food into it’s final product, ready to be served at the table. Our suffering is preparing and equipping us for deep levels of ministry to others. And even after being put on a plate and served, being consumed and chewed is again, violent. Could I really say I want that? Could I tell God to put me on a plate, serve me?
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.
It’s not for everyone. Suffering. Pain is pain, but there certainly are degrees of pain. It can be more or less severe. It can be measured by tolerance. A bee sting or a sprained ankle are absolutely painful. But not to the degree as childbirth or kidney stones. There’s a reason for the pain level charts in emergency rooms! Even C.S. Lewis wrote, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken’.”
So, what about levels of suffering? I dare say it’s a special honor. I truly believe there are levels of suffering reserved for a set apart few. It’s a special grace I’ve been told. Like specialty surgeons must go through exhaustive training and preparation for their specific fields of healing, in order to have the capacity, the mercy to minister to other sufferers, we must endure. And we can because Christ is in us. Because He endured, suffered and conquered the pain. He beat death. So many times people say, ‘those that suffer are strong.’ I’m becoming convinced that God chooses the weakest to suffer most, in order to make them stronger, to show His strength. With that perspective, my weakness is a blessing, an asset. It’s horrible and wonderful. It’s amazing and terrifying. It’s painful and then full of even more pain. Matthew 10:39 both scares me and gives me comfort and hope; ‘For whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life, because of Me will find it.’
Maybe some of us will stay planted in the ground. Some will become seeds to plant more fields. Those are extremely important callings. Without them the process couldn’t continue. I don’t even know if I’m a grape or if I’m a stalk of wheat. Some of us need more watering, some need more sunlight. Maybe we need drying out, or fermentation. I don’t know. But I do know that if I’ve suffered this much so far, then I want to at least make it to the table.