It was my turn to do the communion meditation yesterday at church. I read about the King who prepared a great banquet and all the people who were invited but who made excuses not to come. Which is foreign to me, because if someone says “food” and I’m on the invite list, I can go try out a pair of oxen later. I’m going to be at the table.
Everything is different now because of the pandemic, right? We take precautions. We stay at home more. We keep a cloth mask in the glove box for going to the store. We sit in church with wide spaces surrounding us, spread out like little family clutches. Some of the things that are a routine part of living have changed drastically. Some have nearly disappeared.
Like the church fellowship meal. We haven’t had one of those since last February. Under normal circumstances that could be considered an evangelical crime. A church without a fellowship meal on the calendar is unbiblical. It’s almost unspeakable to set aside the gifts of godly women who love to cook.
I miss the long tables full of fried chicken. Legs, thighs and breasts golden brown, breaded and seasoned just right. Large bowls of green beans cooked with streak-o-lean and bacon grease that has been kept in a secret jar behind the flour canister on the kitchen counter since Grandma handed it down.
And, oh goodness, the casserole dishes that never end. Broccoli, rice and cheese. Scalloped potatoes and cheese. Mac and cheese made from scratch with bits of ham. Vegetables bathed in succulent fixings that no man can adequately describe with mere words.
The table with the food on it is so long and the aromas so tempting that the line moves at a snail’s pace. You stand there with plate and fork in hand praying that the flock of 15 year old boys in front of you don’t clean out the Sweet potato dish with glazed pecans and brown sugar on top before you get to it. You’re thinking, maybe the women should have put that one on the dessert table instead.
It’s near impossible to go wrong with whatever you put on your plate because you know that Holy Spirit inspired cooks have prepared every dish. Pork chops swimming in mushroom gravy. Pot Roast with chunks of potatoes and carrots and tender onions. There are always at least 5 angelic versions of meatloaf that melt in your mouth.
The line usually begins with salads. And not the green leafy stuff that you can get at any salad bar in town. No sir. These salads are made with love by women who wear sacred aprons in the kitchen. Noodles, sliced fruit, congealed concoctions, Mexican flavors, diced and stirred together with dressings sweet and sassy and spiritual.
When I was a kid, there was nothing like a church diner on the grounds. The old Berea building had a small fellowship hall and no air conditioning. So, when the weather was clear, we put up tables out under the Oaks near the east end of the cemetery. It was like sharing a meal with the saints who had gone on before us. Women in print dresses. Men in loose ties with coats draped over the back of a chair. Our ancestors watching over us.
Folding chairs sat around under the shade. The women watched over the food like Mama bears watching over their cubs. Children with eyes bigger than their stomachs were hurried along. They walked the tables with paper plates, fanning the flies away, helping the older folks reach the spoon on the other side of the table.
The tea was plentiful. As far as I can recall, sweet tea was the only drink served. Every gallon brought to the feast was poured together in a wash tub filled with ice. A ladle hung on the side of the tub and you could dip out as much as you wanted. It was the tub touched by Elijah that never ran out, no matter how many times you went back for more.
If a young boy cleaned his plate and said “Thank you, M’am” to every cook present, then and only then could he make his way to the dessert table. The kids were especially watched at this table. Ten year old boys have no sense of self-control when it comes to banana pudding, and 7-layer chocolate cake, lemon pie, Angel food cake, creamy coconut cake, German chocolate cake, cherry pie, strawberry short cake with whipped cream, churns of homemade ice cream, apple pie and peach cobbler. Who can blame them?
My Mama was one of those women who wore the sacred apron in the kitchen. It hung on a hook on the inside of the pantry door. Her apron was stained with the marks of love and secret recipes that she used to raise us and to share with others. On Sundays, when we got home from church, she wouldn’t bother to change out of her Sunday dress. The apron went on and she went to work to feed us lunch. The only place I see aprons anymore is in the church kitchen, but I haven’t seen those in so long it saddens me.
Good meals with friends and family is the soul of any house. God’s house or your own. Something happens when people sit together and eat good food. The food made in kitchens where skilled hands touch every ingredient and love is mixed into every morsel. The stories of ancestors are told around the table. Children learn of the people and the past from whence they have come into this world. Everyone belongs and the meal makes that possible.
Last night I was going through a box of old pictures that we collected from my parent’s house several years ago. None of them were really old, since they lost the “old” pictures in the fire. I was captivated by how many pictures were taken of us at the table. All the holidays and special events centered around food.
There was this one set of pictures of a long table set up in the back yard. The old smoke house in the background. Cows nearby just beyond the fence. There must have been twenty of Mom and Dad’s friends gathered around that table. Cars parked under the shade of the trees. Plates clean. Empty bowls with spoons propped up on the edge. No doubt cobbler. Arms folded. Faces smiling. I could feel the satisfaction of life in every scene.
I don’t mean any disrespect to the restaurants when I say this. And I know that this pandemic has caused irreparable damage to those who make their living in the restaurant business. Prayers for all of them. But, I imagine that one good thing to come out of this experience is that we have spent more time around our own tables eating together as families. And that can’t be a bad thing.
My meditation wasn’t this long nor was it about all this foolishness. It was just about the invitation to sit at the King’s table. And it reminded me of all the fellowship meals we are missing.
At the end of the service, 10-year-old Ryan came up to me and commented on my meditation. “I really liked what you said” he told me. I was impressed. I didn’t figure boys paid that much attention. I’m thinking my words must have touched his impressionable heart.
“Yeah, you made me hungry, ‘cause I love fried chicken. I couldn’t pay attention to anything else ’cause I’m so ready to eat.”
I couldn’t agree with you more, Ryan. I couldn’t agree more.