The words of Henri Nouwen, from the book Bread for the Journey:
“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.
“That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, “This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy.
“The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another. When we say, "Take some more, let me serve you another plate, let me pour you another glass, don't be shy, enjoy it," we say a lot more than our words express. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurtures us. We desire communion. That is why a refusal to eat and drink what a host offers is so offensive. It feels like a rejection of an invitation to intimacy.
“Strange as it may sound, the table is the place where we want to become food for one another. Every breakfast, lunch, or dinner can become a time of growing communion with one another.
“Although the table is a place for intimacy, we all know how easily it can become a place of distance, hostility, and even hatred. Precisely because the table is meant to be an intimate place, it easily becomes the place we experience the absence of intimacy. The table reveals the tensions among us. When husband and wife don't talk to each other, when a child refuses to eat, when brothers and sisters bicker, when there are tense silences, then the table becomes hell, the place we least want to be.
“The table is the barometer of family and community life. Let's do everything possible to make the table the place to celebrate intimacy.”
This is why folks gather after a loss, and food is such a large part of that gathering. We need to reconnect, check in with each other. Someone has left The Circle, and we need to make sure everybody else is there, coping with the change.
This assembly is so crucial, we are sometimes able to put differences aside. And sometimes the distance becomes greater. But there has to be a chance for reconciliation. If fences aren’t mended by the last meal together, chances are hope fades.
At these times hardly anyone notices that the family standards are being passed to the next generation. It is here that the children learn how to cope in such life events. They learn the pecking order of family authority. They learn that grieving looks different on everybody, but it is a necessary part of the process. At such times people, including kids, learn something about themselves.
New leaves are turned. Tragic loss causes many to examine themselves and rearrange priorities. Health issues may perhaps no longer be ignored after losing a loved one to illness. Differences may finally be set aside.
Sustenance is of such import that near strangers feel comfortable dropping off a casserole or cake.
The symbolism of nourishing our bodies encourages us to also care for our souls and spirits. We finally recognize our shortcomings, and accept the help others so willingly give. Supplying food helps those feeling helpless like there is something they can do, after all.
It is no accident that many faith communities have a group of people on whom they can count for memorial meals preparation. It is that important. Not only because hospitality is a mark of the Church, but because the event itself is so crucial in community.
Some people get embarrassed by “All the fuss” of “Funeral luncheons”. That’s really too bad. Its ancient roots have to do with not sending people off hungry for their long journey home by foot, wagon or horse. It goes back to days before refrigeration, supermarkets and microwaves, when folks didn’t have a full larder to feed a large group on short notice. It is a ritual of helping those left behind to take their first steps into their new reality. Not to be taken lightly is the miracle of that short time that society allows raw feelings to be exposed.
So let it happen, when it’s your turn. Take it all in. Be exhausted by it. Be healed by it. The Table brings so many closer to