When I was about a year old our family inherited a small wooden table and six chairs from Uncle Nord. It became a gathering place for our family where countless meals were shared through the years. It sat in the kitchen of our house in Minneapolis and made the move with us to Rochester, Minnesota in ’72. It’s still in my parents’ kitchen, with rickety chairs and seats worn from years of use. Maybe you have a table like it in your life.
I’m visiting my folks now. My stay was longer than anticipated, since Sandy shut down the airports delaying my return to Maryland. That means a few more meals around the table with them. Today it was a cup of soup and a half sandwich with some skim milk for lunch. I’m sitting at that very table now, lap top open. Though I’m sitting here alone, I feel a certain nearness to the people who once occupied these now empty chairs. My mother is scurrying about all Martha-like getting the pork roast and potatoes done right. Tonight’s dinner aroma wafts my way. With it floats memories of a lifetime of moments around this old table.
I sat in a high chair by this table, a toddler so sleepy that my face fell downward into a bowl of applesauce. Hundreds of birthday candles have been blown out around this table, as old fashioned flash cubes flickered. I once received a rebuke from my dad for reaching my hand under the table to feed our dog Mugz who constantly hovered there. I felt wrongly accused. My sister Cathy once tried to hide her lima beans in a napkin, only to be later discovered. Under this table I bumped my chin, reopening a cut which had been stitched up only days before. Many laughter-filled moments come to mind, such as when my Dad was struggling mightily to work some hard-frozen ice cream into a scoop for dessert. He was bearing down hard on it when suddenly a ball of ice cream shot straight upward onto the ceiling – where it stuck for a moment, then dropped straight down onto the table amidst peals of laughter. My mother introduced us to exotic foods here, such as sauerkraut and fried liver. Sampling them was compulsory.
Around this table we welcomed many guests and precious friends through the years, pulling up one more chair, telling stories, sharing concerns. When my brother Joe got the job, that news was shared around this table. The day Grandpa died, we ate in silence around this table. There were times I came to the table angry, but left softened by the melting influence of food and family. I remember some days during high school wrestling when I did not want to come to the table, because I was exhausted and trying to cut weight. Even though I could not eat, I was made to come and sit with others while they ate, a lesson I’ve passed on to my own children. Here at the table I learned to pray, listening for years to my parents and siblings talk to God in thoughtful, deliberate phrases before meals. Before the dishes were cleared, tattered Bibles were passed around, and we read a passage of scripture together as a family before homework.
Today when my dad sat down for lunch, he sat cockeyed on the chair the way he always does, with an elbow on the table and hand on his forehead as he began to pray, the way he always does. It was like a flashback. In an instant I was 12 again, the familiarity of the table and its fellowship throwing me back to something basic, elemental and essential about my life. After he prayed, we passed decades old Corelleware dishes to each other, reminders of the past, and yet bearing life-giving fruit for today.
It’s funny how a small piece of furniture – it’s only about 30 inches across and scarcely over 4 feet long – can hold such a large place in my mind. But I suppose it’s not really the table itself that is precious to me. Rather, it is the people who have gathered with me around it. It is the place in which it sits, this home, that is sacred to me. It is the living scrapbook of memories that has been assembled here which matter, forever linking in my heart my deepest values, convictions and loyalties toward God and family. The Table is about our family. It is about my life. It is about my faith.
It’s gotten me to wondering how my kids will think about the table around which they’ve grown up. What lessons are taught, what experiences ingrained around the wooden table in our kitchen? What kind of family is being formed? What kind of faith is being shaped?
If your table could speak, what story would it tell? About your life? Your family? Your faith?
After Jesus’ resurrection, he walked incognito with distraught friends several miles (Luke 24). They gabbed the entire way, but were so downcast they did not recognize Jesus, even though he was right there with them. I understand that frame of mind – because often I ignore Jesus even when he is right there with me. After they arrived, Jesus pretended to be traveling on further when they said, “No! You really must stay with us.” He accepted their invitation, and then it happened: they sat down around the table for dinner together. And as he prayed and broke the bread and gave it to them in the familiar way he always did, their eyes were opened and they realized they were with Jesus.
Something about sitting around the table opened their eyes spiritually. Jesus was there all along. But around the table they began to see him. Isn’t the same true with us?
Maybe the reason this table seems like such a special, holy place is because it is. I’m beginning to think the yearnings for family and love and faith which we feel around the table aren’t just yearnings for home, but yearnings for Jesus. And our tables are a place where the Jesus who is always with us can finally be seen. It is good to pray in the name of Jesus at the beginning of our meals. It is better to expect him to join you in the meal and the rest of life, so that the risen Lord shapes our families, our life, and our faith. It is in the breaking of bread around our ordinary kitchen tables that we are meant to recognize Jesus – in the events of the day, and in the faces of others.
We share communion at Mountain every weekend. We come around the Lord’s Table. It is a way to meet Jesus in the breaking of the bread. It’s a holy moment, set apart as a place of deep connection with others around us, and of life-giving fellowship with Jesus. Our eyes are opened in the breaking of the bread. And in some way or other, every meal at every table is meant to do the same.