My womb became a tomb on Easter day 2016. It did not matter that it was “early in the pregnancy.” The ultrasound showed a cavern of nothingness. Dark and silent. An empty womb, an empty tomb.
On bended knees and with our faces to the ground, my husband Hans and I came to the end of ourselves. We stood at the precipice of our own strength. We were not enough. We could not save our baby.
For months, we were learning to swim in the strange waters of grief. And the learning consumed all of our effort and limbs and souls.
Sisters and mothers in Christ surrounded us with their arms and with food. Familiar aromas wafted softly into our kitchen. Each dish bore tiny whiffs of the souls of those who loved us. Roast chicken, bouquet of roses and daisies and lilies, and creamy popsicles.
Our spiritual family prepared a table before us, in the presence of death, our enemy. They were the visible hands of our invisible God.
Tables in the Wilderness
Our Heavenly Father spread many tables in the wilderness. Meat and manna fell from the sky. Water flowed from a rock (Ex. 16–17). My children never tire of hearing how manna tasted like honey.
When Elijah lay exhausted in the wilderness, the angel of the Lord came to him not with a sermon or even a Bible verse, but with a freshly baked cake and water (1 Kings 19). When the disciples despaired over Jesus’ death and their empty nets, the resurrected Lord grilled fish over charcoal fire. He waited for them by the seashore and called out, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12).
The Lord speaks even through food. We need to eat, lest we die. Food tells us our Father knows our needs. He is no stranger to our weakness. In the face of fear and sin and despair, he cares for us and he feeds us. Food tells us God is with us.
The Table on the Battlefield
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:5). Why does Yahweh prepare a table in the battlefield—in a psalm about sheep and shepherd? In Scripture, a shepherd is often used as a metaphor for a king. Commander-king Yahweh draws the battle line—with a table. Yahweh girds his people for battle not with horses, chariots, or a large army—but with a meal.
David takes a table made of wood and nails and turns it into a place of communion and fellowship with the Lord. David declares, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4). Before David’s enemies, Yahweh’s table stands as a fortress, a place of refuge. The table stands as a banner over Yahweh’s people: Immanuel, God with us.
What King is This?
The servant king—this is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian religion. King Yahweh not only spread a feast for David, he even now fills his subject’s cup and anoints his subject’s head with oil.
A seat at the king’s table represents the king’s grace and favor. David welcomed Mephibosheth to his table as a gesture of mercy and loyalty to Jonathan (2 Sam. 9). In Proverbs 9, Lady Wisdom set a table of bread and wine. She called everyone to leave their simple ways and come to her table, in order that they might live.
Ordinarily, soldiers fight for their king. Not so for Yahweh. He is the king who fights for his people. Yahweh girds his soldiers with himself. David marched towards Goliath girded with the name of Yahweh: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of hosts.… For the battle is Yahweh’s, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Sam. 17:45–47).
The Table on Calvary
There is one problem. We are born on the wrong side of the table. We are conceived as rebel sinners and enemies of God. We are perpetually weak and without strength to save ourselves. We are doomed for an eternal death.
But God, in his mercy, sent Jesus. Unto us, the great high priest is given to intercede on our behalf. To our weakness he is no stranger (Heb. 4:14–16). The great high priest prepares a table in the presence of Yahweh. He offers himself as a sacrifice. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He is the Bread of Life. This is his body, broken for us.
Jesus takes an object made of wood and nails and turns it into a place of communion and fellowship. He meets us at the cross and has died in our place. The cross is our refuge and fortress, the culmination of Yahweh’s provision and presence, his favor and grace. The cross stands as a banner over God’s people: Immanuel, God with us.
Pain saves me from many delusions. Pain—even the acute pain of an empty womb—opens my eyes and I see myself as I truly am, weak and insufficient, in need of help. The end of my strength is the beginning of faith. I see my Lord at his table, with nail-pierced hands and outstretched arms. He waits for us there, inviting us: “Come and have breakfast.”
The coming of Christ fulfills our longing to be helped as his perfection on our behalf earns our favor with God—seating us on the right side of the table at which we receive his presence, his peace, his provision, his protection, and his power to overcome sin.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION
In what way(s) are you currently experiencing your own emotional capacity or physical limitations in motherhood?
How is the presence of God a help to us in those moments when we are made most aware of our helplessness?
Read Hebrews 4:14–16. What comfort does it bring to imagine Christ as an advocate for you in the moments and seasons when you long for someone to notice your need and elicit aid?
How does the “feast” of a Savior, who ever lives and intercedes for you and offers you the moment-by-moment presence and help for which you long, free you from resenting you husband, mother, friends, in-laws, or circumstances in the times you feel let down by them? How does it protect from a feeling of loneliness, defeat, or powerlessness?
Irene Sun was born in Malaysia but has lived all over the world. She is the author of the picture book God Counts: Numbers in His World and His World. She studied liturgy and literature at Yale University (M.A.R.) and the Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.). She now teaches her four boys at home with her husband Hans, a preacher in the Chicago area.