The Holy Meal, the Family Meal

The Holy Meal, the Family Meal August 4, 2008

I recently heard about a movie named “Kids” where, according to the reviewer, “a band of teen-agers forages for sex, drugs, and booze on New York City streets.” Daily, the kids drank and smoked, and grabbed the always available fast food. The young people portrayed in this movie were apparently not an underprivileged group. Money was freely available. What they didn’t have, and what particularly troubled the reviewer, was the experience of regularly sitting down to a family meal. Meals were the ordered on the whim without concern for others. Each person ate in isolation. Without manners or grace, they shoved the grease-laden food almost furtively down their throats. This disturbing picture is becoming way, way too common.

Residents of this fast food nation of ours are rapidly discarding the convention of the family meal. Food is grabbed on the go, gobbled down in the car, eaten hurriedly at sports events, or mindlessly in front of the TV, and prepared so that no one has to encounter unfamiliar food or something disliked. The family meal is on its way out.

The family meal: that time when everyone present in a given household, and not necessarily related, sits down in quietness and intentional conversation, eats what has been prepared with gratefulness and good appetite, and shares what is there, whether it be plenty or scarce.

The family meal: the place where sharing and consideration of others become visible graces. Food is served out of common dishes, passed from person to person. One person taking too much means someone sitting right next to them may go without. It is where table manners are caught by loving example and gentle correction.

The family meal: the ideal time to celebrate our humanness, learning from and listening to one another, rather than acting like wild animals, grabbing first what is available and slinking away when satisfied.

The family meal: perhaps one of the most civilizing forces in society, is being discarded in the name of convenience and busyness. I’ve heard stories of people being denied employment simply by the observance of a lack of table manners. Weight gain plagues most of us because food, instead of being savored and really tasted at a given time and place and in the company of others, is poured unthinkingly down our throats in ever expanding quantities.

Much religious observance centers on the meal. In Christianity, the family meal has been codified in what is called the Mass, the Eucharist, the Service of Holy Communion, or The Lord’s Table, depending on the tradition. No matter the name, each can be called “the holy meal.” In each case, no matter what the tradition, the meal is communal. It is never to be consumed alone. There must always be at least two in attendance.

No matter how small a morsel of bread, or how tiny the drop of liquid (wine or grape juice, again depending on the tradition), those morsels are partaken thoughtfully and gratefully in the presence of others.

This is the place we intentionally encounter the living presence of God. It is not to be entered into lightly. Again, different traditions do this differently, but in the United Methodist Church, the invitation to partake is extended to all. We say, “Come . . . come to this table that has been set for you. Lay down the many things distracting you for a bit. Come, savor the love of God and the grace given to you. Come, partake, receive.”

Ideally, the family meal should reflect the holy meal. Come, lay down the distractions. Come, savor the love that prepared the food, whether it be simple bread and water, or a feast fit for royalty. Come, eat with others and listen to their hearts while offering your own.

The re-engagement of that one act alone could turn our society around. Let’s give it a try.

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