Picking up books for a couple of newlywed gals from the local book store, I came across Leonard Sweet’s From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found And Identity is Formed. Table Life being one of my faith files, I picked it up.
This 163 page little book is filled with statistics (the average dinner time 60 years ago was 90 minutes; today it is less than 12 minutes), stories (I like any vegetable stir-fried, my chicken deep-fried, and my table story-fied), and historical facts of the importance of table life (God’s first commandment in Genesis 2:16 is to ‘eat freely’ and his final commandment in Revelation 22:17 is to ‘drink freely’).
Sweet reminds us of our spiritual heritage where the story of God’s deliverance is told by a child and by the food in the Seder meal. Children catch their tribal identity by the table stories, food and customs of our tables. It’s around the table where we learn boundaries, manners, rituals of right and wrong, and get to know one another.
Jesus started out on earth in a food trough, he dined with sinners, he fed the hungry, ate with dirty hands, sipped water at a well with a Samaritan woman, and though He may have started as a guest at homes all over the region, Jesus ended up taking on the role of the host. When the Greco-Roman culture partied on to keep the gods away from mortals, Jewish feast days invited God’s presence among His people. Of the 23 parables in Luke’s Gospel, more than 15 (or almost 70%) of them feature food. (pg 110)
Sweet speaks specifically of three tables to intentionally set: setting the table at home, at church, and in the world. These are the aha moments I discovered in the read:
Setting the table at home: Homes used to have two tables – a dining room table and a kitchen table. We have exchanged the kitchen table for an island where we sit facing one direction. We have exchanged the dining room table for a great room where the ‘screen is queen’, speaking of the TV.
Setting the table at church: It’s the Communion table in the sanctuary and table of communion in the fellowship hall which brings the church talkers and church walkers together. The church walkers invest in using their hands, feet, and knees to serve. The church talkers revel in the teachings of Jesus and Paul, loving the life of the mind. When Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” at the Last Supper, Sweet suggests that our Savior meant for us to ‘do the table.’ Have a seat, join the conversation, engage in civil debate, share ideas, speak of human concerns, persecutions, provide comfort, extend compassion, eat, teach the children, and be the church. Do table life in memory of Jesus.
Setting the table in the world: Matthew 14:16 reminds us We love our neighbors when we reach out to them, when we listen to them, when we ‘give them something to eat.’ There is nothing like homemade food prepared and planned by a friend that feeds my soul. When my mother-in-law passed away a couple of months ago, the church came out and dished out. There is a lovely Mom in our church who’s ministry and business is to prepare weekly meals for her community and she has blessed my socks off so many times. She makes a chicken pot pie that is heaven on my plate. My daughter prepares dinner for her pastor and his family regularly. The gift of Christian hospitality.
The biggest star I placed in the book is on page 133: Irish novelist Bernard MacLaverty recalls a key detail of his Belfast childhood: “The air was full, always and everywhere, with the sound of the old ones talking.” Do the ears of your kids ring from the sound of the old ones talking? Ask those who have given their lives to children and youth, like Presbyterian pastor Lars Rood: “Kids gravitate to the oldest person in the room if that person shows an interest in them.” Children belong at the table. Teenagers belong at the table. They can be a pain, and they may ruffle the tidiness of the table. But if your eschatology is strong, if you have a vision of the future, they become a joy and a pleasure. The table talk they experience there gives them a sense of their place in the story, so that even if they leave the table, like I did, they can’t escape it. Oh, the power of doing table life!
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and EAT (emphasis mine) with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20