This morning, my daughter came into the kitchen and said in a huff, “Why don’t we ever eat at the table anymore?”
When I envision supper, I see the supper of suppers, The Last Supper, da Vinci’s famous painting with the disciples in their color-coordinated robes neatly lined along one side of a long table, with Jesus sitting calmly about to serve them. The Eucharistic symbol of the table as a place of communion and community can, thus, throw a mama off kilter when she is faced with her own supper table: No one is lined up around the table, much less sitting in their chairs. No one is color-coordinated. She is in the middle about to serve, but most definitely not calm. It’s enough to drive her to the television with her plate (she said purely hypothetically).
Books like Father Capon’s classic The Supper of the Lamb and Shauna Niequist’s recent Bread and Wineattempt to remind us of the spiritual benefits of eating together at the table, yet in reality, we don’t. No study is needed to know that 21st century families are not eating well or together, much less both or often enough. Cookbooks like this one and this one attempt to rekindle our interest in the family meal. But who needs to be told to do something supposedly so enjoyable?
Me, for one.
For the past few years, family dinners have been as rare as the lunar eclipse we had the other night. Why? Because it’s hard. But you do other things that are hard, you say, like getting up at 5 a.m. and eating broccoli? Yes, but dinner is different. By dinnertime I’m exhausted and talked out. I have no bandwidth for complaints or elbows on the table or getting up multiple times to get the salt/water/hot sauce/napkins. By suppertime, I am ready to cocoon into my books or a movie or anything else that doesn’t involve—how can I put this—people.
But, we can’t escape this: The table matters because it is a picture of The Ultimate Table, the Lord’s Table. So maybe the way we come to His table tells us something about how we need to come to our family tables. I’ve suffered through family dinners in large part because I expect them to look something like da Vinci’s, but the truth is, the table Jesus and his disciples ate at was as messy as mine and as yours.
At His table, we don’t come color-coordinated, freshly bathed, and smiling from ear to ear. We come, sometimes kicking and screaming like a toddler, grumpy and tired even of our own selves. But we come, hungrier and thirstier than we have ever been, because we will hear the one thing we need to hear more than any other, that which embodies all the love in the world, that which redeems a lifetime of messy suppers: “Take. Eat. This is my body, given for you.”