A Place at the Table
by Dale Reeves
I’m a bit of a jigsaw puzzle connoisseur. Some would say that my collection is a little obsessive. For some people, doing a 1,000- or 2,000-piece puzzle is anything but relaxing, but for me—especially during the winter months—I love the tranquility that I enjoy while putting them together, and the sense of accomplishment and appreciation of art that I have when they are completed. I especially enjoy puzzles that depict scenes of places I have been fortunate to visit. One of my favorite Christmas gifts last year was a puzzle that had been made from one of my wife’s beautiful photographs of Hallstatt, Austria. Sometimes we assemble puzzles together as a family during Christmas, New Year’s celebrations, and summer vacations. Several of the puzzles I have glued together so that we can hang them on the wall and enjoy looking at them all year.
The first large puzzle (1,000 pieces or more) I remember assembling together was one that my mom bought for me. It was produced by the Milton Bradley Company in 1965. I pulled out this old puzzle earlier this year and on the front of this bent, taped-together, and well-worn cardboard box I noticed this phrase, “For Ages 12 to Adult.” If my mom purchased this for me the year it first came out, I would have been only seven years old. She must have known she had a child prodigy on her hands as I was destined for jigsaw puzzle greatness.
This puzzle is part of my treasured collection not only because it was the first serious puzzle I put together, but because I have always loved the image. The art is of the Last Supper, painted by Leonardo da Vinci circa 1495. The original painting (now restored numerous times) covers an end wall of the dining hall (29′ x 15′) at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Jesus had gathered with his 12 apostles in an upper room the night before his crucifixion and he had given them explicit instructions on how to eat and drink in the future—in remembrance of him. Leonardo’s painting depicts that moment in the room when Jesus dropped the bomb and told his apostles that one from among them would betray him before sunrise, and all 12 of them must have reacted to the news with different degrees of horror, anger, and shock, asking “Is it I?” (see Matthew 26:22, KJV).
As I child I remember being fascinated with the details in the puzzle—assuming Peter and John were seated closest to Jesus; wondering if Jesus’ hair really had a blond tint to it, or was that just the glow from the halo?; noticing the spilled cup of wine in front of Judas Iscariot as he clutched the money bag. As the years have transpired, this puzzle has survived a couple of moves of our family, and as I took it off the shelf and assembled it again this year, I remembered that it was missing a piece or two. Several of the pieces are also well-worn, but I’m grateful to Milton Bradley for the thickness on the backing of the puzzle that has allowed me to enjoy it for these many years.
Actually, my Last Supper puzzle now has three pieces missing, one in the tablecloth, one in the throw rug, and one in the floor. If you enjoy putting puzzles together, you know how frustrating this can make you feel after you’ve labored hours and a few late nights over a puzzle—only to find at the end that your puzzle is incomplete.
Last fall my wife and I got to enjoy a New England vacation with my brother and sister and their spouses, visiting the beautiful little town of Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park. While there, besides eating my fair share of “lobstah” and clam “chowdah,” I spent part of the evenings putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle of the Portland Head Lighthouse. Now you need to know that my brother-in-law Ed can be a prankster, and he loves to mess with people who are putting puzzles together by hiding a piece or two without them knowing it. He lurks about until the puzzle is nearing completion and he sees the frantic puzzler looking everywhere, then hears the frustrated individual exclaim, “Oh no! I’m missing a piece!” You know where this is going, don’t you?
Near the end of our vacation, when I was almost finished with the puzzle of the lighthouse, I discovered two pieces were missing, I also knew who the culprit was, and I wasn’t going to give Ed any satisfaction and participate in his “game.” This trip happened to take place near my birthday, so my family decided that for one of my gifts they would send me on a scavenger hunt to reclaim the missing two pieces. I really didn’t want to play along, but after some coaxing, I finally decided to be a good sport and participate. I read through the clever poem written by my sister, and sifted through a number of clues to find objects both inside and outside our rented house that sat at the edge of Hulls Cove. After some searching and much laughter, I had reclaimed the missing two pieces and could finally complete the puzzle.
Come to the Table
After this scavenger hunt, I thought about Jesus’ parable concerning the lost sheep. Jesus says, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders” (Luke 15:4, 5, NLT).
Jesus goes on to say that there is more joy in Heaven over one lost person who returns to God than over the other 999 pieces in the puzzle who didn’t stray away (my paraphrase). Jesus invites you to come and take part in his meal, to come and gather in his name with his body, the church. Whether you are “doing church” online, in a small gathering in your home, or in a large gathering at a church building on a Sunday morning, Christ invites you to remember his sacrifice by eating a piece of bread and drinking from the vine to commune with him. What a wonderful gift that there’s a place at the table for you and me. The truth of the matter is that because of our sins and wrongdoings, all of us could answer the “Is It I?” question in the affirmative. We at one time or another have betrayed Jesus with our thoughts or actions. But in his infinite mercy, Jesus doesn’t see the money bag or other things we are holding onto—his only desire is to continue pursuing us until all the missing pieces are found.