I am convinced that it has always been God’s intention to foster the healthiest and most thriving communities around a table. (It isn’t by coincidence that we should celebrate the pinnacle of our Catholic faith around the most sacred table of all.) Yet as delicious as my mother’s food is, I am certain that food is merely the cherry on top of something much more nourishing. The main course of each meal is the company itself.
A meal might begin with the excitement of an extended invitation that is followed up with an enthusiastic acceptance. It then moves to the confusion and headache of what needs to be made and cleaned, what groceries must be picked up, the concerns about timing, preparing, cooking, and perfecting. Once all that has taken place, the excitement heightens as friends begin to assemble. A greeting with a hug or a kiss on the cheek moves friends to an inviting gathering place, a table neatly set with a sense of welcome that does not need to be said out loud. The chatter continues and the meal is unveiled. “Mmmm” is heard around the table and the cook receives accolades even before the meal begins. The dive then begins. The amount of time it takes to eat the meal is but about five percent the time it took to prepare it, from the initial invitation to dinner to the actual consumption.
It is completely worth it: every single moment of planning and preparing, inviting and confirming, coming and going. It is worth it because partaking and eating of the fruit of friendship and community is beyond satisfying. It is thirst quenching and utterly fulfilling. It satisfies the hungry soul and meets the human need for love, affirmation, consolation, and acceptance. All this isn’t about food – it never was. It is about the sacrifice of time, the intention of the preparer’s heart, the excitement of invitation and gathering, and the experience of laughter and created memories.
For all those who go without the typical American meal, their joy is in the family gathering, in the community festival potlucks, the sharing of a meal or a fiesta dance. Those communities enjoy a bowl of rice and beans, perhaps a bowl of soup and bread, whose main focus is more than just the food, knowing that food cannot be the thing that sustains them. It is their love for God and their love for one another that sustains them. That is the very thing that we must remember, that we must enjoy: not merely the meal itself, but the company that keeps us coming back to the table.
As in the Eucharist, we gather around a table as a community united for the greatest meal of our lives. We recognize that while a simple wafer becomes the body of our Christ, we are not in it for the deliciousness of a cracker, but the reminder that we are united to one another and to the Son of God. While it takes forty minutes to prepare us for the meal that then takes us ten seconds to receive and consume, Christ’s sacrifice for us was completely worth it: every single moment of planning and preparing in obedience to His Heavenly Father, inviting and confirming His many disciples, and coming and going from one village to another. He recognized the beauty of community, the divinity in humanity, and the fulfillment of friendship.
He dined; Jesus dined, and dined, and dined. Some have called Him a glutton; and for this purpose, I agree wholeheartedly. He was a glutton for the meals that transformed hearts, the conversations that evoked change, the laughter that brought tears to eyes, and perhaps most importantly, the relationships that left impressions on the hearts of those who could see Jesus in their counterparts. During all our days, may we, like Jesus, take the first step and invite those around us, especially those most in need, to share a meal with us that the hunger for companionship may be fully and utterly satisfied and met.