A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
The Family that Eats Together
April 5, 2012
My brother and his wife are coming here to spend Easter with our folks, Tammy, and me. We look forward to being in church together on Good Friday and Easter. But by far our longest preparatory conversations have been about our meals. It’s always been that way with my family – every family visit revolves around the table.
It’s more than the food that grabs us. It’s the whole experience of sitting together at table – prayer, food and drink, conversation, table games afterward, more conversation, more food and drink, and finally we’re done. Only to resume the cycle again shortly.
The shared table helps keep the family strong. The food itself is part of what strengthens us, but the more important thing is that it gathers us together in a crucially significant way, as persons who share utter dependence on something beyond ourselves for our very survival. At the table there are no self-sufficient heroes who don’t need what the rest need; by the very acts of eating and drinking we admit that we need something external to ourselves if we are to survive and thrive. The table is the great leveler of all who otherwise may occupy different strata in the social order.
The family table makes explicit what we sometimes forget – eating is never an act done in isolation. It is impossible apart from the farmer, the cook, the coffee grower, the truck driver that transports my food and drink, and so on. The people sitting with me stand in for the whole of humanity, all of us mutually interdependent. I cannot love everyone as I should, but in loving my family as we gather at table, I begin to do on a small scale what I should by right be doing with the whole world.
Holy Week begins at the table – a grand meal at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. (John 12:1-11) The high point of the week is the meal shared today on Holy Thursday, the Passover in the upper room. It is no quick snack – the Passover Seder is a multiple course feast that includes, among other things, consuming four glasses of wine. Yet the meal is about so much more than filling our bodies – it is remembering our salvation story, sharing other personal stories, washing our feet, praying, singing. It takes a long time, and it’s a family meal. In gathering with the Twelve for the Passover, Jesus says in effect that this is his family, just as we do whenever we gather at the Lord’s Table.
Eating together is so deeply ingrained in their DNA that Jesus and the disciples get right back at it after his resurrection. Easter evening he sits at table with two disciples in Emmaus, and it is there they finally recognize him for who he is. Later he appears to others in a locked room, and the first thing he does is ask, “Do you have anything here to eat?” As he prepares to leave them for good, he first cooks them a big breakfast to sustain them over a long day. From the day of Pentecost forward, Christians began instinctively to break bread together regularly. (Acts 2:42)
Early Christian churches met in homes, and the center of their meeting was the dinner table. There they ate and drank, prayed, and listened to the Scriptures explained. They came soon to take some of the bread and wine on the table, and consecrate it as Jesus did at the Last Supper.
A healthy family makes the table a central part of their life together. I’m told that the family known as Pittsburgh Presbytery used to share meals together years ago, but the practice was set aside because it took too long. Now we do so exactly once a year, at our annual Crestfield meeting. We have Holy Communion also once a year, which is better than nothing. But even that gets rushed because we have so much business to take care of. Here’s my Maundy Thursday question for us this year: How might our family health change if we regularly ate and drank together?
Our Mission Study Team (MST) believes that restoring the family table is of critical urgency for the family known as Pittsburgh Presbytery to increase in vitality and fruitfulness in the Gospel. The MST itself held each of its meetings over table fellowship, where it came directly to experience the reality that table fellowship really does bring divided folk together in heart and soul. That is one of the major reasons it has proposed gathering together often in Branches, where table fellowship will be central.
The Sorge family has plenty of differences. I mean, big ones! Yet we love each other greatly, a love that is sustained and grows in no small measure around the family table. Let the same be true for our Presbytery family!
See you at dinner!
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Click here for the directory of archived letters.