The vegetables had just come out of the soil and I placed them in a pan of oil and they immediately began to simmer and pop. The scent of sautéed onions and garlic is a little glimpse of heaven; they smell better than anything could ever taste. I took the sautéed vegetables which included squash, zucchini, and onion and arranged them on the plate. I placed a steak that had been rubbed with copious amounts of paprika, cumin, and pepper and of course, seared on both sides right on top of the vegetables. I topped off the meal with a watermelon that was so luscious that the juices leaked out and on to my shirt with every bite.
But it did not taste the same. Everything was cooked to perfection, but it was still dull. I was eating alone. How can you enjoy a meal if you are alone? A meal is not the same when no one mentions the miracle of vegetables that were covered in dirt just five minutes ago. Food is bland when no one is laughing or telling stories. A glass of wine makes you feel like an alcoholic when you aren’t unwinding with a good friend. My meal felt less like grace and more like a mound of energy that merely functioned to keep me satiated for the rest of the night.
I am grateful that my parents made the five members of the Snider clan sit down at the table every evening for dinner. Nothing extraordinary ever happened—told a few stories and sometimes we fought. Rarely someone would comment upon the food that my mom prepared. But, we were together and we were able to learn important habits. We learned the habits of thanksgiving, respect, and we learned how to gracefully receive something we did not want. As the family endured my dad’s jokes and my big brother’s stories, we learned the skills of listening and patience. Slowly, meal after meal, we are transformed into different people. And we receive grace all along the way, whether we realize it or not.
A teacher of mine, Norman Wirzba, asks a series questions, “Is food just a commodity? Is it just fuel? Is it merely a necessity to keep us going? Or, is it more than that—is it grace?” Table fellowship is a cornerstone to both Jewish and Christian worship. In Acts, the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers (2:42).” As they broke bread, the early Christians took time to learn about one another and place their lives in the context of Jesus Christ. The table became Eucharistic as the gathered body of believers were transformed into different kinds of people—a people who were more attentive, caring, and hospitable. Food is never only about energy.
I am struck by a conversation that a group of members at Plains had last Sunday after worship. We shared food at a local ‘greasy spoon.’ The food is reminiscent of the sort of thing your southern grandma might cook. A parishioner remarked, “We complain about going out to eat because it’s cheaper to stay home. Years down the road, we will not remember this little bill. But we will remember the memories we make.” Another parishioner remarked, “That was a good sermon illustration.” And I nodded, “Yes. Yes, it was.”
It’s about sharing food. And it's also about sharing your life.