Do you eat dinner at the table? With demographics showing nearly 30% of homes to be single occupant residences, and less than half of families reporting eating together up to five times a week, statistically you may not! With Thanksgiving and harvest behind us, and the bounty and abundance of Christmas celebrations ahead, our planning and celebrating centres so often around food.
Why is there such emphasis on the dinner table culturally (the highly idealized family dinner), and why is the opulence of the holiday spread so attractive? Isn’t the dinner table just another reminder of our disconnection from the community ideal that we hold in high esteem but so regularly fail to achieve? Decorated with a mound of bills and paperwork, frequently abandoned in favour of take out, in my busy household it more often represents the chaos that takes place around its edges, if we make it to a shared dinner at all.
Yet the dinner table has, by all accounts, a multifaceted, positive impact on people. Paul Fieldhouse, and adjunct professor at the University of Manitoba, writes that eating together, “is also a central part of social relationships and cultural rituals, as well as a symbolic and a material means of coming together. Across cultures and time, food sharing is an almost universal medium for expressing fellowship; it embodies values of hospitality, duty, gratitude, sacrifice and compassion. The shared meal is an opportunity not only to eat, but also to talk, to create and strengthen bonds of attachment and friendship, to teach and learn.”
Rich in symbolism, ritual, community, and connection, its not surprising that we joyfully anticipate the invitation to the holiday feast. The dinner table is an equalizing gathering point for people from all backgrounds, traditions, and beliefs.
In Jesus’ ministry, his disciple Matthew comments on this: “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and his disciples” (Matt. 9:10). The table as well as the master invited sinners to join him in breaking bread. Some of us may not find this image difficult to conjure while sitting across from grumpy uncle Gus and gossiping aunt Gertrude at our own holiday festivities!
The table is an invitation of Christ, as expressed in his invitation to share in the last supper, come together as equals and experience grace, remember together, and celebrate the hope that is found in Jesus. The table is as expansive as the ground around the cross where we all come as we are. We leave there transformed, filled with the provision of Jesus.
This holiday season, I invite you to gather, welcome, and partake in the hospitality of the season. Consider those around the table as equals in their own pursuit of connection, love, and celebration, as much as merry food-munchers. Allow the holiday table be a place of grace, care, and hospitality for you and those you share the table with. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). The table is set and there is room for all who wish to join and share in the feast. In this, we enact the hope of Christ that the season holds.