February 28, 2016
This was a woman who had prepared biscuits from scratch every morning of her adult life. She made chocolate pie the way Claudius Thurmond makes his and she fried okra the way Suzie Thurmond fries hers. She canned tomatoes and cooked greens like Fred Woodruff and made teacakes like Vernell Hicks.
It didn’t matter whether she fried fish we had just caught from the pond or a squirrel we’d killed in the woods; My grandmother could make anything taste good.
Food was as good at supper, which was our evening meal, as it was at dinner, which was our noon meal. We usually ate leftovers for supper, if there were any. She might add a little something to make it a meal.
While it seemed that Grandmother lived in the kitchen, what I now know is that there was something spiritual that took place around the kitchen table and her hands made all of that possible. We always paused to give God thanks for the food we were about to eat and we might ask a blessing on the family or pray briefly for others.
The spiritual significance of the gathering just passed us by because we took it all for granted. We were just doing life.
Life at my grandmother’s house involved gathering around the meal table three times a day, not unlike you see on the old show, “The Waltons,” just on a much smaller scale.
The only time we could equal the Waltons in numbers was the time Dad’s sister and brother came for the holidays with their families and all 15 of us squeezed into the kitchen and spilled out onto the back porch for the meal. After those gatherings, the dog was lucky to get a leftover biscuit. How I wish I could roll back the clock and gather one more time for one of those family meals.
Some time after my grandfather died we began to notice that my grandmother wasn’t eating and with some detective work we soon learned she wasn’t cooking. Depression and some dementia had set in and my parents moved her into their house. In time, as she began to sit around a table with loved ones again, her appetite returned.
Now my wife will confess that part of the benefits of being an empty nester is that she has not had to cook like she used to. Now that we have family in the basement apartment, I’m the beneficiary for a few more of her home-cooked meals. I must admit, it really is nice to sit and talk with more family once a week or so at the table.
The family tradition of gathering for a daily meal is dying and it is having some devastating effects on our families and our faith. The simple gathering of a family around a meal on a regular basis is part of the glue that has held families together, but it is being forsaken.
Children and teenagers have schedules that push their activities late into the evening. Parents work late, have committee meetings, and are busy moving their children around town to events. Everyone seems to eat on shifts and pick up food on the go, so is it really possible to have a family meal any more?
In a “Leave it to Beaver” world when the mom stayed at home, maybe a family meal was possible, but isn’t this something that’s a thing of the past? Isn’t it wishful thinking that we can sit down to a nice family supper every night?
In the world that families now live and the schedules that families now keep, it is “pie in the sky” thinking that families are going to be able to sit down for a meal together every night. But ponder this question, “Can we be family if we never or rarely gather around the table?”
Nora Ephron says “a family is a group of people who eat the same thing for dinner” (“Search for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church” Rachel Evans, p. 1777 of 4048). If that is true, a lot of us don’t qualify.
When the early church formed in houses, part of what defined them as a family was the meals they shared together. Luke writes that they “broke bread and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:42-47).
If you find a church that you are comfortable eating with, you have likely found a body of believers you are comfortable with, who accept you, who welcome you, who are willing to serve you, people you trust, appreciate, and love. You don’t eat with people you don’t like or people you are angry with. If you do, then the meal is uncomfortable and you learn quickly that you have to work out your problems because family members cannot live close together with constant tension.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons so many families don’t have meals together. It’s a way to avoid each other and the issues that have occurred during the day. Having a time together as a family is a time to eyeball each other. It’s a time of accountability. It’s a time to ask questions, debrief, read body language, share some good news, and remind each other that you are loved.
In “The Collapse of Parenting,” medical doctor Leonard Sac suggests that we make family meals a top priority again. “You have to communicate that our time together as a parent and child is more important than anything else,” he says. http://parenting.blog.austin360.com/2016/01/11/parents-youre-not-doing-your-job-sincerely-expert-and-author-leonard-sax/
One study found that for each additional meal a family had together the less likely children had internalizing problems such as anxiety or externalizing problems such as skipping school. It also helped children develop good nutrition habits, lessening the obesity problem. (Ibid)
Since the early church the fellowship meal has been a part of the church’s DNA. The very first churches ate together because Jesus commanded them to “do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? To break the bread and drink of the cup whenever they came together.
Jesus understood that there is something spiritual that happens to us around the table. There is something spiritual that happens when we share potato salad, green beans, and fried chicken with each other.
There is something gracious when we receive a bowl of stew and crackers from the church when we are sick and something pastoral when someone shows up on the steps of an elderly person’s home on Wednesday night with a box of food.
When the Sunday school class takes care of a week of meals for a person after he or she has had surgery it communicates care at a deep level.
When a committee prepares a meal for a family of 50 after they have lost a loved one, the food becomes the bond that brings the family together around the table one more time before they have to go their separate ways.
There is something celebratory in the food that is prepared when a family welcomes a new baby into their home and the church comes calling with food so the new parents can focus on the joy of their new birth and get some rest and not worry about feeding themselves.
There is something surprising when a new family is visiting the church and a couple introduces themselves and says, “Would you like to go out to eat with us today? Or “We are having some friends over to our house Saturday night; would you like to come over and join us?”
When teenagers from the church gather at a friend’s house and share pizza there are laughter and smiles; there are opportunities for friendships to form and memories to be made.
There is something bonding every time we are asked to bring a covered dish and we break bread together here as a church, whether it is in a small group or it’s with the entire church.
If you removed food from the church we would struggle to be family.
In Baptist church the communion table is here every Sunday to remind us that we are family. The table is here to remind us that we are bound together in the body of Christ. The table is here to remind us that the body of Christ was broken for us. The table is here to remind us that the blood of Christ was shed for us.
Should we ever cease to gather around the table, we would cease to be a family. We would cease to be the church.
I know you can worship God by yourself in the mountains. I know you can go to the lake and worship God there by yourself. Yes, you could stay home and watch the super preacher on television. But when you separate yourself from the church, you separate yourself from the table.
Nora Gallagher said, “On those days when I have thought about giving up on the church entirely, I have tried to figure out what to do about Communion” (“Search for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church” Rachel Evans, p. 1825 of 4048).
Don’t you see that communion not only reminds us of Jesus, but communion also reminds us of each other? The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church of this, telling them that it was wrong for them to come to the Lord’s Table and ignore the divisions they had among them in the church. He explained to them that if they simply came to the fellowship meal to eat, they could have stayed home to do that. One purpose of coming together for the meal with Christ at the center was to bring the family together. Instead, the people in the Corinthian church were all just looking after themselves, ignoring each other, filling their bellies with food and even drinking too much of the wine.
There is a reason we emphasize our slogan, “It’s all about relationships,” because in remembering Jesus, we are challenged in the way we are living in relationship to others.
In this passage, we see that after Jesus’ resurrection, two individuals from Emmaus met Jesus as they were headed home from Jerusalem, but they did not recognize him. As they talked with him on their way home seven miles away, they told him what the women had said about Jesus rising from the dead.
Jesus chastised them about being slow to believe. He asked them, “ Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:26-27).
When they got to their house they invited Jesus to the meal table for supper. When it came time to say grace, they asked Jesus to pray. When Jesus began to pray, that’s when they realized who he was.
My prayer is that whether we sit down to a meal alone, with family, share a meal with a friend at a restaurant, tailgate with friends at a football game, share a covered dish meal here at church, or break bread in the Lord’s meal, that we remember to welcome Jesus verbally or in our hearts, and in doing so that we will catch a glimpse of Him in someone else’s eyes and that we realize people everywhere are hungry.
The question is, “What kind of appetite do we have?”
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
- If you are hungry for authentic friendships, honest conversation, sincerity, integrity, good humor, and people who love you and care for you, then you are searching for family.
When the church is at her best, she is family. She is family she has plenty of open seats at the table to any who will accept God’s grace and forgiveness of sins through Jesus. Come now and share in this celebratory meal in remembrance of Christ our Lord.