This article was originally published in the World Orphans Fall Insight Magazine 2018.
One of the dominant memories I have of childhood is our family dining room table. In and of itself, it was an unremarkable piece of furniture: dull, brown oval of oak perched on a nicked and scarred pedestal. Usually, it was home to six chairs, but when necessary, it could be pulled out, leaves added, and another half dozen seats slid into place at the drop of a hat or a knock at the door.
I grew up in a family of six: four boys, a mother, a father. Our house on Barrett Street was smack dab in the middle of our block, flanked on either side by a few dozen other middle-class families whose homes were filled with children. And if there was a magnetic north of our neighborhood, it was that dining room table. Every day, kids tumbled down the street like ball bearings on a playground slide—a bouquet of hungry faces—some new, some familiar, bellied up in anticipation of my mom’s perfect grilled cheeses with tomato soup, succulent frog-eye salads, and sinful monster cookies.
They came in droves, all the way from 17th Street in the east to 15th Street in the west. This phenomenon was not limited to when we were young, geographically shackled by our elementary-sized legs and feet. Half a dozen of my friends and I made the trek across town nearly every day throughout high school to devour a stack of sandwiches, chips, and cookies as big as our collective heads.
I didn’t realize it then, but there was more to that table than wood, glue, and a few bolts. The huddling around fruits and vegetables, breads and pastries, and thinly-sliced meats and strong cheeses was not merely animal instinct: eat or be eaten. It was a sacred rite, a gathering of spirits, and an act of worship in one of the most holy temples: the home. Our family believed in the priesthood of all believers, and my mother took her role seriously.
And she was in good company: Scripture is stuffed with priest-chefs.
When Abram, sitting expectantly at the door of his tent, is met with emissaries from the Lord, his good and appropriate response is to offer them a meal: bread, curds, milk, and lamb. We feed our pets, but like Abram, for the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we prapare meals.
Isaac, on his deathbed, requested of his firstborn son, Esau, “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die” (Ex. 27:4). Perhaps, Esau had been busy feeding his wives, taking them the venison he had once given his father. Perhaps, Isaac felt neglected, forgotten, and disrespected. And the remedy was a meal.
Years later, we learn of Joseph. Amid famine ravaging most of the known world, Joseph spreads a feast before his brothers—the very same brothers who had beaten him, sold him, and left him for dead. But, in the words of Matthew Henry, “They drank and were merry; their cares and fears were now over, and they ate their bread with joy, concluding they were now upon good terms with the man, the lord of the land.”
We would be remiss to forget the most famous of all meals begun in an upper room amid tragedy, suffering, and betrayal, its final course climaxing in glory at the marriage feast of the Lamb, where our true selves—the bride clothed in white—will be revealed, and we will share in the Great Table without end, filled with every goodness by the Great Chef himself.
The oaken table in the dining room of the middle house on Barrett Street is only a shadow of that Great Table, but that does not make it any less sacred or authentic. In fact, therein lies its holiness.