“We thank thee, Lord, for happy hearts, for rain and sunny weather. We thank thee, Lord, for this our food and that we are together. Amen.”
One evening last year, my 5 year old daughter came to our family table and said, “I want to pray before dinner tonight, Daddy! I learned this new prayer at school.” She began praying the prayer above and we’ve been praying it ever since. On sunny evenings, on rainy nights, we take our seats around the table and thank God for the gift of food. We thank Him for the gift of gathering at table at the end of the day.
When we gather for dinner on Sunday and Monday evenings, I’m especially reminded that I’ve been present at another table–the Lord’s Table. From Sunday morning to Sunday evening to ordinary weeknights, it’s almost like there is a spiritual bridge between the two tables–our family table and the Lord’s Table. Both call us to share in a feast of love as a family. Though Holy Communion isn’t exactly the same gathering as a dinner among family and friends, there are more resemblances than differences. Here are four ways that the family table resembles the Lord’s Table.
What are the most important moments in Sunday worship? Worship songs? The sermon? Holy Communion? I’m not suggesting a ranking here, but gathering would be near the top of my list. The most simple act in a church family is sometimes the most profound act–gathering for worship. Why? Because you can always choose not to come. There are all manner of distractions, obstacles, and other claims on your time that can keep you from showing up. It’s easy to not gather, just like it’s easy for me to not exercise. But when you commit to being present in worship; when you push through the other demands on your schedule and choose worship, you encounter the presence of Christ both in the sacrament of the Lord’s Table and in the “sacrament of your neighbor.”
Jesus’ greatest command was to love God and love our neighbor. My neighbor is the person who is the “near-one,” the person who is nigh. My wife and children are the people I see most often, the “near-ones” that Christ calls me to love first. Loving my first neighbors–my family–means finding a place where we can gather on a regular basis.
We have young children, a preschooler and a kindergarten. I know that our lives and schedules will be changing in these next few years as our children begin school. As invitations increase among friends, sports teams, and school events, I’ll be considering the impact of any new commitments on our ability to regularly gather for dinner around the family table. I love sports and I believe learning a musical instrument is a good discipline. But nothing athletic, musical, or academic should prevail over gathering as a family. None of these things can offer the communion that happens around the family table.
Communion always involves remembering. Jesus said, “When you eat this bread, remember me.” But remembering together requires re-membering, gathering from our dispersed places into a shared space. That’s why the family table is one of the most sacred places in the home.
After we pray our rain-and-sunny weather prayer, we start eating and conversation begins. Several months ago, I suggested that each person in our family share their favorite part and their least favorite part of the day. Yep, that’s youth group icebreakers coming into our family. It’s the same thing as Highs and Lows, or as some call it, Yos and Woes.
When I introduced this simple conversation starter last year, I didn’t realize it would become our family’s little liturgy. But as James K.A. Smith says, we’re liturgical creatures, so it’s no surprise we institute habits and routines together. Now my son asks the nightly question mid-chew of his first bite of food. Somehow the littles instituted a rule that grown-ups have to go first. Before I lift my fork, I’m having to examine my day.
Sure, they are learning the rhythm of conversation from us, but they are also inviting me to share the most important moments of the day now past. Sometimes my answer prompts more discussion. Sometimes the next person describes his or her day. It’s become very predictable that my son’s worst part of the day is the ‘thunder trucks’ (garbage trucks) that wake him up in the wee hours of the morning, emptying the dumpsters in the commercial property adjacent to our house.
But the favorite part of the day becomes a place for everyone to share more. I didn’t foresee that these simple questions would lead my kids to become storytellers, but this is what’s happening. When something good happens in our day, we all want to hear more. And who doesn’t want to talk more about the good things happening in our lives? That’s what a family is for.
When the church family gathers around the Lord’s Table, it’s a place for stories, too. Before holy communion is shared among the church, the pastor remembers the story of Jesus. There’s a specific name for this section in the eucharistic prayer–anamnesis. It’s a Latin word which is related to amnesia. An-amnesis is saying, “don’t forget this great story.” The story section of the Eucharistic prayer is called the anamnesis because it tells the story of our failures, but how God’s great love heals and redeems us in the story of Jesus. Stories at Table are not only ways we connect with one another; it is a way we acknowledge the Lord’s presence among us.
Even as we’re telling stories about our day, we’re making new memories with conversations at table. When you have a preschooler and a kindergarten, conversations will be filled with unfiltered comments, illegal segues, and bizarre questions. In the midst of it all, we end up laughing most nights. My son’s personality has emerged at the family table more than any other setting. I think it’s because he feels at home. It’s nothing special that my wife and I are doing. I think there’s a mysterious joy that awaits us when we regularly gather at table.
Joy and blessing are the essence of holy communion, too. The invitation at the beginning of the Eucharist is “Lift up your hearts!” The church responds, “We lift them to the Lord.” Communion is the time when our joy is made complete. From the Lord’s Table, the church says “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!” When Christ is present, we should expect the joy of the Lord to strengthen us as a family.
4. Room for More
My favorite image of holy communion is the icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev. This icon is rich in meaning and symbolism. One of the most inviting symbols of this icon is the open space within the Trinity. With food prepared, there is a space open for the one who wishes to receive the life of God–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That open space says we are hungry for God, hungry for community. That space says something about the heart of God, too. God invites us into his Family by baptism so we can “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Some of our best memories around the family table include people beyond our little family of four. We’ve been blessed and enriched by the presence of friends who have joined us at our family table. We’re still growing in the practice of scruffy hospitality, ever learning that time with others matters more than being flawless hosts. The new stories we’ve heard from friends, new and old, have become stories we tell in our own family. Some of the best memories in our home have come when friends have joined us for food and conversation.
Maybe that’s the strongest resemblance between the Lord’s Table and the family table. The family table is sacred for those who dwell in the home, but it cannot be an enclosed space. The family table has open seats and when those seats are filled, the home becomes a sacred place for all who enter.