Reinventing the Table

Others, Theology

Contributed by: Food for the Hungry Canada

Written by Mike Janz

Every spring we are reminded that new life is a beautiful part of the rhythm of creation. The green around us grows brighter. Daffodils bloom in surprising places. Our Creator’s brilliant creativity is on full display.

Easter 2020 was different than any of us have experienced. Churches were closed. Sermons were pre-recorded and posted to online channels. We made palm crosses in our home, reenacting the Palm Sunday procession in living rooms. We delivered hot cross buns, setting them down at an appropriately safe distance from family members. My mother-in-law delivered an Easter turkey and sweet potatoes in a sanitized box, placed safely on the doorstep before retreating the requisite two metres. Easter has traditionally been a time of year when the church goes all out, creatively and joyously inviting the world into this radical celebration of new life.

This season of Eastertide, as we move towards Pentecost, likely feels different for most of us. This season of new life is a bit muted right now. There have certainly been some gifts in this time. Journeying through Holy Week in a different way than we are accustomed to opened up some new ways of seeing and experiencing the story, but something really essential was missing…eating together.

Table fellowship is a wonderful part of flourishing as a human (it apparently decreases stress, increases binds between friends and families, can be attributed to better health), and there may be another factor to consider – that eating with others is integral in the way of Jesus, and it just may be where and when we most clearly see Jesus in our midst.

It doesn’t seem to be coincidental that in the Gospels we are told the disciples knew the resurrected Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread. The last time the disciples spent with Jesus was round a table, sharing a meal. Jesus’ way of spending time around a table even led to him developing a reputation as one who hangs out with the “wrong” type of people. He shared parables that suggested who we invite to our parties and share our meals with may just reveal the depth of our commitment to the way. The table is where people met Jesus.

Think of it…the table is where we see each other as we look across the table into each other’s eyes. The table is where most socio-economic divisions can be done away with, as we act upon the simple need to eat healthy food, one thing we all have in common. The table is where, hopefully, all 7.8 billion people on earth gather daily to gain the sustenance to care, think, work, love and gain the strength to feed others.

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A couple of year ago my wife and I decided to more regularly opening our home to neighbours for Sunday evening soup. We would make a massive pot of soup, bake some bread, and invite our neighbors to bring anything else that they desired. It only took a few weeks before our tiny house and backyard was filled with more than 40 friends.

We called it Sabbath Supper, because I like to name things, and also because we were growing increasingly convinced – beyond a head knowledge we carried around for years – into a loved expression of something tangible. We have been convinced that it isn’t coincidental that meals play such a prominent role in the Jesus story, and indeed in much of the Jewish scriptures as well. It is a natural and essential way to connect with another human…through a meal around a table, a fire pit or in a field on a blanket. Our commitment to welcoming our neighbors into our home for a meal was a way of offering the chance for them to not have to cook and experience a bit of Sabbath, and to look each other in the eyes.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went away and re-committed to our dinner practice (when my wife returned to university we felt stretched and opened our house up less and less). A couple of days after this weekend away the COvid-19 pandemic had spread and we felt uncomfortable having others into our home. Soon after that it was mandated by the government that we couldn’t have others into our home. I went and bought an old barrel and built a fire pit in our back yard so we could host people outside. By the time the fire pit was completed it was mandated that we were not allowed to gather in crowds of more than 5 people.

So there we were, in our backyard, just our family, left with little more than good intentions.

…and then in an attempt to provide a framework for peaceful family coexistence in the midst of our new norm of the whole family being home together 24 hours a day, we began to read Romans 12 together. We were reading along in The Message when we read Paul’s encouragement to the Roman church – be inventive in hospitality.

I was taken back to visiting the communities that Food for the Hungry Canada partners with in Guatemala. Whenever you are welcomed into a home – often with a dirt floor, a single room, wood-fired stove – you are offered some form of food. Something from the garden, a package of crackers or cookies, a bottle of water. Our friends in Guatemala have shown me that limitation is not an excuse to not offer hospitality, but maybe an invitation to be inventive in hospitality.

A story in the Bible that we often discuss at FH Canada is 2 Kings 4:1-7. In this story we read of a widow asking the prophet Elisha for help with her debts. Elisha responds by asking her what she has in her house. Her immediate reaction is to answer that she has nothing, and then to eventually tell Elisha that she does have a bit of oil. Elisha then partners with the widow and her sons to find a way forward.

Elisha’s question is an important one for us at this time. “What do you have in your house?” We may be quick to answer like the widow. “Nothing.” But I hope we all can take the time to think further, to ask God how we can be inventive in hospitality at this time when we can’t eat together.

What do you have in your house? What has God blessed you with at this time that you can share and love your neighbor as you love yourself? You may have time, a garden, needed skills, good health and a car to help an elderly neighbor, a love for baking that you can share with a neighbor who has lost their job.

Whatever it is, may we hear the words of Paul to the church in Rome, and be people who are known in this time for being inventive in hospitality.