On Sunday, police in Wichita, Kansas, came face-to-face with protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement—only this time their meeting wasn’t across barriers of conflict but around tables of conversation. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, have sent shockwaves throughout the US. The natural reflex of both cops and communities around the country is to retreat to opposite sides and resist one another.
But in Wichita, something else happened.
Protest organizers met with Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay for several hours. By the time they were done, they had planned a cookout together for the community. On Sunday in a local park both sides gathered for burgers. They sat eating around picnic tables and stood in circles chatting—including people who were white, black, and Hispanic. They listened to each other, answered questions, and even danced together. The community even had the opportunity to ask Chief Ramsay hard questions about their police procedures—and he responded.
Protests continue to simmer in major cities around the country, but a cookout in Wichita sparks our imaginations for another way forward—choosing dialog over demonstration. A picnic table becomes a place for peace. A cookout becomes a context for community.
Some of the most important events in the Bible happen around tables. Abraham welcomed three strangers and fed them a meal. A single mother welcomed Elijah into her home and fed him her last bit of food, only to be miraculously provided for in return. Jesus was no stranger to the table either. He made a point to eat with a social outcast named Zacchaeus. At another meal, a woman washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. On another occasion, Jesus miraculously multiplied a small boy’s bag lunch to feed thousands of hungry people—a cookout of epic proportions!
Indeed, much of God’s Kingdom involves meals around tables. In Psalm 23, God “serves a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.” And the most important meal of all is the one that Jesus spread before his disciples in the upper room. The Last Supper included bread and wine. With it, Jesus taught his disciples that peace would only happen through sacrifice and suffering. As conflicts continue to spring up across the country and around the world, pray for more cookouts to spring up as well.
Read the story of the Last Supper, and imagine inviting your enemies to share a meal with you. What kind of food would you serve them?
After sunset, he and the Twelve were sitting around the table. During the meal, he said, “I have something hard but important to say to you: One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators.”
They were stunned, and then began to ask, one after another, “It isn’t me, is it, Master?”
Jesus answered, “The one who hands me over is someone I eat with daily, one who passes me food at the table. In one sense the Son of Man is entering into a way of treachery well-marked by the Scriptures—no surprises here. In another sense that man who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man—better never to have been born than do this!”
Then Judas, already turned traitor, said, “It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?”
Jesus said, “Don’t play games with me, Judas.”
During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples:
This is my body.
Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them:
Drink this, all of you.
This is my blood,
God’s new covenant poured out for many people
for the forgiveness of sins.
I’ll not be drinking wine from this cup again until that new day when I’ll drink with you in the kingdom of my Father.”
They sang a hymn and went directly to Mount Olives.