Monday, July 27, 2015

Reclaiming the Dinner Table

The typical lazy feel of Saturday mornings was shattered as I rushed to prepare everything for the weekly international meal we would be eating that evening.  The food processor quickly shredded eight cups of sweet potatoes that joined a fluffy mound of brown sugar and toasted pecans in one crock pot while the pound of black eyed peas I had been soaking overnight combined with bacon and onions to fill a second crock pot. 

Meanwhile, the rice cooker counted down to its distinctive ding as the chicken marinated in freshly squeezed lime juice.  Around me, the air filled with competing sweet and savory aromas of the Bahamas until the scent of a golden brown pineapple pie overpowered them all as it emerged from the oven. 

An hour later, I escaped the kitchen to spend the afternoon off the farm with my children while adopted daughter went to a wedding shower and husband set off to mow the lawn. 

At day's end, however, all six of us came back together as we do most every evening--gathered round the table to share a meal with each other.  It's a time for catching up with one another, sharing the highs (or lows) of our days, a time to breathe out the frustrations of the day and simply give thanks for the togetherness.

Several times in Scripture, God emphasizes the shared meal as a time of togetherness intended to foster relationship not simply with each other but with Him.

When speaking of the Promised Land, Moses tells the Israelites, "But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.  There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you" (Deut. 12:5-7).

There, in the midst of rules about worship, sacrifices and burnt offerings, Moses emphasizes that "you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God."  Notice this eating is done in community, not alone.  It is also done in conjunction with rejoicing--giving thanks!

This "eat before the Lord" is a concept repeated multiple times in Scripture.  It's not, however, about the meal, itself, or the need to replenish our bodies with food.  Instead, coming to a communal table to share in the meal is about relationship--about needing each other--as much as it is about thanksgiving, being mindfully thankful for what God has given us.  

Earlier at Mt. Sinai, Scripture demonstrates the meal as relationship.  In Exodus 24 after the people of Israel entered into a covenant with God, the entire congregation agreeing to obey the Law of the Lord, Scripture says "Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11).

This eating was done, quite literally, before the Lord.  Obviously, it had nothing to do with consuming calories for one's health.  Instead, the meal was a way to commemorate the sealed covenant relationship between God and Israel.   And though Scripture doesn't record it, I imagine there was a good bit of rejoicing over the blessings of God.

The New Testament as well speaks of the shared meal in terms of relationship.  While the Lord's Supper is probably the meal that springs most easily to mind, there are numerous other instances of the communal table as a symbol for relationship.

In John's inaugural vision, Jesus calls the Church at Laodicea to the table of fellowship, saying, "'Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends'"(Rev. 3:20).

Later, John tells us that history is moving towards one great table of fellowship, thanksgiving, and rejoicing: "'Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.' It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he *said to me, 'Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb''" (Rev. 19:7-9).

The focus of the meal is on rejoicing in the Lord our God.  It is on being thankful for His many blessings.  It is on our relationship with Him.

Though our culture seems to have less and less time for such a luxury as a shared meal round a table (except for on holidays), Christians should strive to reclaim the family dinner table as much as is possible.  No matter whether it's frozen fish sticks and fries or a four-course meal--it is in this seated position around the table where we can teach our children about the Lord, can strengthen our relationships with each other, and can strengthen our relationship with God as we seek to make the meal a time to mindfully rejoice in unity and give communal thanks for His blessings.

1 comment:

  1. This is great. An important part of our divided days, too. Didn't you love the session in Beth Moore's "Deuteronomy" that discussed this?? I think we all need the book she references there - "Table Life." I'll look into it... :)