It was in March 2004. I was on my way to North Korea, no kidding. And for sure, I was not deported or escaping from South Korea. I just took a bus with my friends to meet North Korean college students. Can you believe it? Back then, the relationship between North and South Korea was ever better than before. So North Korea hosted a social gathering for college students from both sides, and I luckily got the chance. How can I forget the moment that I crossed the border through a land road? Passing the heavily fortified fences, military posts, and landmine areas, the bus entered into the Demilitarized Zone, which is a buffer zone between the North and the South along with the border.
Because nobody lives there for half a century, it’s become an involuntary nature reserve. As I was watching the beautiful wildlife outside, I heard the announcement, “now we are crossing the border.” You wouldn’t understand it, but for me, as Korean, it was an emotionally overwhelming experience. My friends and I became speechless with the eyes welled up with tears. What a tragedy it is! Across the short distance I passed, about 2.5 miles, the Koreans from both sides were pointing guns at each other. And numerous Koreans have never visited their hometown again, and never seen their family members on the other side. I deeply felt the tragic reality and it broke my heart.
As soon as we arrived, we were invited to a dinner. There we met North Korean college students for the first time. The dinner table was well prepared with good North Korean food. At the round table, we shared a meal and got to know each other. I knew that the North Korean students were not totally free to share certain information with me. But I never felt them as strangers. They looked just like me. We could perfectly communicate with each other using the same language, though we had little different accents. Cheerful and friendly conversations went on and on over the allotted time. At the table, I witnessed that there were moments when our hearts were opened and connected. And there were moments when we saw each other as same Korean beyond our political and ideological barriers. Yes, it was one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life.
But sadly enough, that student gathering was first and last. The relationship between North and South Korea has gone down the hill fast thereafter. And today, we see how North Korea is threatening the whole world again. So recently, I thought about the North Korean college students I met on that day. How would they be? What would they do? And looking back on the experience, I noticed again that there was something special about the table we sat around and shared a meal. The table, which is one of the most common and usual places in our life, is actually quite extraordinary.
At the table, we not only share meals and have conversations, but we also get connected and enrich our relationships. At the table, we celebrate birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and family reunions. At the table, we build up our friendship at social gatherings and church fellowship. At the table, we sometimes make an important decision about life. The table… this everyday place is actually, extraordinary.
Jesus and his disciples also experienced how extraordinary their table could be. On the night, just before Jesus entered into his time of suffering and death, Jesus shared a simple meal with his disciples. While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God and gave it to the disciples, and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many” (Mark 14:22-24). At the table, Jesus not just shared a meal, not just had a good fellowship. But right there, he invited the disciples to become a true family in body and blood. And Jesus opened our way of having everlasting communion with God and with each other through his self-giving love that unites, embraces, and accepts.
Today, we are living in a broken world… not just to mention what’s going on between North and South Korea, but the whole world is suffering brokenness. The world is torn apart by wars, violence, antagonism, power struggles, nationalism, and religious extremism. We are divided by race, socio-economic status, gender, ethnic group, political party, religion, and by social issues on immigration, same sex marriage, climate change, foreign affairs, and so on. The stories of separation, division, alienation, and rejection always outnumber the occasions of reconciliation, unification, inclusion, and acceptance. In this broken world with broken relationships, where should we find the ground to mend all this brokenness in the world?
On this World Communion Sunday, I hope and pray that we can find the ground at the Lord’s Table… the table where everyone matters, the table where everyone becomes a child of God, the table where everyone receives unconditional love that welcomes, saves, forgives, empowers, and reconciles, the table where there is a seat for everyone from everywhere, from North or South, from East or West, from next door or across the street, from a luxury house or a street corner. I believe that this table of Jesus we share truly is the extraordinary ground for peace and reconciliation in the world and among us.
Today, Jesus is calling us again. “Come! Come to my table all you who love me. Come and have a seat. Come, taste my love that overcomes any barriers, and live your new life in communion with me and in communion with each other.” As we hear this call of Jesus again, let us come to his table with all the children of God. And let us invite more people to come to this table and let them feel the love of Jesus Christ that heals the division and brokenness in the world. May the self-giving love of Jesus dwell among us, unite us, and make us be one in that love always. Amen.