No matter whether our home is small or large, new, or old, most of us will have at least one table tucked inside. For many it will serve a variety of purposes depending on the need or even time of day. It may be where the first meal of the day is eaten and then become a workspace for someone who needs a large flat surface. Later it might serve as the place for study as students also need such a larger flat surface. And if we can do so, we will choose the table with a nod to our expected uses and favorite style.
I still remember the table in the kitchen of the farmhouse where I grew up. It served many purposes. Beyond the place where we had our meals, it was where my mother would carefully lay out patterns tacked onto fabric for her next dress. It was where I attacked my homework after school. During harvesting from the garden, it was often a place where it held freshly filled jars of jams, peaches, cherries, and other yummy things. It was the place she wrapped gifts and frosted cakes or cookies. There was no island so popular now, so it was used every moment of the day for one thing or another.
Of all the things I remember about that table, my fondest memories were when we had it opened to its widest expanse to make room for others to have a meal with us. My mother loved to cook, and I often said that she spelled love, “food.” Her other strong conviction was that those who were alone should not need to be alone to enjoy a meal so those who were single, widowed, or far from other family, were often invited to our table.
In the hectic-paced world most live in today, how many times does the table serve as a place to come together as a family or in community with one another? Yes, it has always had utilitarian uses, but it has been far more than simply another piece of furniture or a place to hold food or homework, papers, books, or pattern pieces.
Most any special occasion will involve gathering around a table to fellowship and celebrate whether it be in good times or bad. Breaking bread together has become a part of humankind life for a very long time. Some of that may be because eating is central and necessary to sustain human life, but something more than that happens around a table and as I have been reading The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whittle Earley, that has come more sharply into focus.
“The table is the center of gravity. When we see food as fuel, we turn all of this on its head. We aren’t grateful to God; we assume our right to food. We aren’t grateful to each other; we create systems of food that embody the exploitation of our neighbors who grow, transport, prepare, and serve our food. We aren’t grateful to creation; we consume the earth’s food greedily and carelessly, as if it were ours to binge on and trash instead of ours to steward and cultivate into flourishing.”Justin Whittle Earley
Even with moms and dads working and often arriving home at different times, children going here and there, and meals at dinner not routine many days, most will still value the table (this center of gravity) with care for how it will serve and represent them.
When we do come together around a table over food, it becomes formational for all the things we share and learn about one another in the process. It’s a place we learn about operationalizing love.
“Think of all the ways the values of love are communicated over food. We serve each other. We clean up after each other. We take turns. We share. We fight and forgive. We praise and compliment. We express gratitude. We tell stories and ask questions. We listen. We hear each other pray.”Justin Whittle Earley
Dearest memories of the last years of my parents’ lives before they left this earth were times we were gathered around their table. Food was finished and we lingered at the table where we would ask a question that led to hearing my parents (especially my dad) tell stories of the days he was growing up or their early marriage together. Inevitably, one question would lead to another, and no one jumped up to turn on a TV or clear the dirty dishes. We were caught up in the important story of my parents’ life. There would usually be at least one funny story and laughter was common. Those later years were when I learned what a great storyteller my dad was. I think our grandchildren have had that experience with my husband (their grandpa) since he has been known not only to sample warm cookies on our kitchen table but also create fantasies about a year he lived with the Eskimos and more. It was a long time before they were old enough to know it was a story he had created.
For those who are involved with their faith, we find more than one or two times when we see a gathering around a table as we read the Bible. Some of our places of worship may have a painting of Jesus with the disciples coming together for that last Passover before He would be crucified. We remember it each time we come together to remember that sacrifice for the sacrament of Holy Communion. We get invited to that table and that is no small invitation.
“But we don’t get invited to the table because of anything we’ve done. We get invited because of what Jesus has done. This is why Christians regularly come to the Communion table to feast on the body and blood of Christ. It is a reminder that because of Christ, we will commune with God again over food.”Justin Whittle Earley
Our oldest grandson will be married in a few months, and we look forward to being there to celebrate this wonderful occasion but despite how precious he is to us, we look forward even more to the feast of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb we read about in the book of Revelation 19 when we who believe in Him will be joined with Him at long last as He has always desired. That will surpass any celebration any of us have been part of or can imagine and the great thing for us is knowing we will share that time with those in our family (both present and past).
A table is not just a piece of furniture.