My memory often fails me, but when it does not, the pictures are vivid, the smells pungent; I can feel the moment in my body. I recall entering my childhood home after school, and apple cinnamon, with a hint of orange peel, causing my shoulders to relax. Walking into the kitchen, something was always cooking, a pot roast in the crock pot, lasagna in the oven, or leftover chili from the freezer. With confidence, I tell you, I am certain my Mama never slept, but somehow, there was always dinner. Without saying so, she taught me this: We feed those we love.
The table is sacred.
When we gather to eat, we all come with our hunger. Regardless of our differences, our skin color, our size and shape, our culture and past, even our religion, we must eat to live – it’s common ground. Family dinner satisfies not only our need for food, but also for relationship.
As I mature in age, my soul aches for ancient paths of peace. I want less glitter and gold, smoke and mirrors, and more unfiltered substance, and purpose without all the drama.
Me, in my twenties.
Me, right now.
I’m too tired, and frankly, too old, for pretending and striving and hierarchy. I think that’s why my love for the table has grown: it’s real, and being together in that context grounds us; it helps us remember who we are, somehow. I’m also not unaware of the pain of the table. When it’s empty, or overbearing and manipulative, we must find the courage to speak, to change, or even to leave. The table is both a gift, and a burden.
The gift of the table is that it is a great equalizer, especially in the church. Jesus Himself was always at the table – eating with people society rejected, debating with religious leaders, loving His Disciples. He gave people a seat at the table. And He also poured out His heart for unity in John 17 over a meal. He desires us to be one, to be whole and the finished work of the cross overcame our great divides. He reconciled us once and for all to the Father and to each other. “There is no longer slave nor free, jew nor greek, male nor female. You are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The burden of the table is the personal cost – all the sacrifices we must make for the well-being of the community at large, all of the privileges we must yield so that everyone has a seat at the table, all the selfishness we give up so that we can see all people as God sees them.
I believe God has a love for the table.
He longs to commune with us, to break bread and have us peer into His heart as He illuminates our own. The Eucharist, or Communion has had a profound impact on my heart. With gratitude, breaking bread with God. In every season, in every circumstance, in every relationship, thank you God. Your body was broken. Your blood was poured out. Your life as an intercession for mine.
Eating together at the table is a reminder of who God is. He is with us. He longs to be with us. He’s not our boss; he’s our Lord. He loves us. And we feed people we love. Spiritually, Jesus offered his body and his blood as our spiritual nourishment. We are found and filled in Him. His will is our food. When we lay our lives down in obedience to Him, we discover ourselves full, with a God-given ability to feed others. “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
His love is a faithful reminder that we are not alone at the table. We are a family. We are neighbors. We are all God’s children and must journey toward that identity ourselves, and struggle to see others as His, as well.
Recently, I stood in the back of a ballroom in Los Angeles, holding a tray full of bread. Candidly, in any other context, I’m not sure we’d find ourselves together at the table; the room was rich in diversity. As person, after person, approached to receive their bread, and dip it into salt, to partake in the Eucharist, I wept. Thousands of us in the same room, with our different languages, faith traditions, theological viewpoints, ethnicities, and passions, at the table with God. If only for a moment, we were one. We were whole. Only the love of God has the power to do that. “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”
I want life at the table to be a primary experience in my life. (Even when it’s frozen pizza, on the living room floor, and Stranger Things on in the background.) I want meaningful connection, sharing and healing and transformation, freedom and wholeness. I want to press beyond my selfishness, and make room for more. I want our home to be a respite for others, who need to sink their weary, overstimulated souls into still and deep waters. What about you? What are your memories at the table? How can we return to God and to one another?