He Prepares A Table Before Me
In these days of quarantine and social distancing, families are by necessity spending a lot of time together. In previous times evenings may have been taken up with sports practices, working late, hitting the gym, finishing up homework and the like. One blessing of this situation is that a lot of us finally have time to play board games with our kids, get on top of the laundry, and having actual sit-down family dinners.
The family dinner is something that has been neglected in our culture. We are just all so busy! However, research shows that families who eat regular meals together experience increased language development, improved mental health, better bonding, better grades, greater physical health, and increased financial savings.
Psalms 23:5: “You prepare a table before me…”
Setting the Table
Do you set the table for meals? Do you all sit down together with tablecloth, cutlery, perhaps candles?
If you’re a busy mom of little ones you might be thinking, “What would be the point?!” Some days it feels like more than enough just to get them all fed.
But there is something really important–Divine, in fact–about preparing a table. Sitting in a session with speaker Nancy Campbell at a conference she asked the question, “Where did tables come from? Where did tables originate?” The room was silent. There were various suggestions, but finally she gave us the answer: TABLES ORIGINATED IN HEAVEN. Before we ever had tables on earth, God had them in heaven. What a cool thought is that: God has a table! A table where we are invited to sit and feast! (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:29, Luke 22:29-30, Revelation 19:9)
Tables just don’t happen. A table must be prepared. Psalms 23:5: “You prepare a table before me…” Preparing a table is something that God does! Who knew?! When I set out the plates, napkins, glasses and cutlery, I am doing something that God does! When I set bowls of steaming food and platters of fruit on the table for my children, I am mirroring something the Holy One does for His! That is AMAZING! That is a completely beautiful perspective!
What does it communicate to our family, friends, neighbors, (you know, someday when we can invite neighbors over again) that our table is prepared? Pastor and Chef Francis Foucachon writes in his book, Food For Thought and Thoughtful Food, “The ritual of regular sit-down meals communicates a sense of self-worth, especially for children. They sense that they are important enough for someone to take time, day after day, to schedule this event around their needs. The fixed part of a day when a real sit-down meal takes place gives all family members a sense of security, because it means that there is always something in the day that they can count on as being the same. The structure of having meals together brings a framework that family members can hang on to when things get tough….For a loving family, the dining table is a refuge where life is not hard or harsh….The sustenance and renewal and fellowship found around the table help you to confront trials and challenges with trust in the Lord and with strength.”
It’s not over-stating things a bit to say that the most important piece of furniture in the home is the table. The table is the center of the home, the center of blessings. “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the LORD.” Psalms 128:3-4
“You feed them with blessings from your own table and let them drink from your rivers of delight.” Psalms 36:7-8
In fact, a meal at a table is central to our faith–beginning with the Passover, continuing on to the Tabernacle and eventually in the Eucharist. It is a symbol of faith, nourishment, acceptance, hospitality.
“In the ancient world (the one Jesus was born into), people saw the sharing of meals as having eternal consequences. If you ate meals with the right kind of people, paradise waited for you. If you ate with the wrong kind of people…well, you get it. Jesus challenged this organizing principle of his culture. Understanding how the culture viewed having the “right” dinner companions shines a whole new light on the old story of feeding the five thousand. People marvel at a little bit of food feeding a whole bunch of people and miss a whole other point. Jesus wanted them to EAT together. If they did this, it would change everything, they would be joining the revolution.” (Radical Hospitality, St. Benedicts Way of Love by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt)
Preparing a table means we make space for another. It’s intentional. If every meal has the potential to reveal God in Creation (because preparing a table and sharing a meal is something the Bible tells us that God does!), then the table has a deep, a sacramental, meaning.
Let’s be practical. How can we work this understanding into our daily lives? Now in this time of slow-down, it is a good time to re-evaluate our priorities. How can we manifest the Lord’s table at our table?
1. Do not let your table be overtaken by other things for any long period of time. Especially as homeschooling families, this takes being intentional! Our table is constantly covered by art projects, math papers, laundry half-folded, etc. Oh, it’s just life. But, make it a part of your daily rhythm to clear it off and start fresh before each meal. Children can be taught to gather up their things in anticipation of dinner. In fact, this is a really helpful daily ritual for them, as they learn to take responsibility for their own things. As parents we are guilty of this, too. The table can be spread with bills or paperwork and old coffee cups. Take a few minutes to put everything to rights before meal time.
2. Before I begin to prepare dinner, I light a candle in the kitchen and later transfer it to the table. It’s a small thing. It takes just a moment. But, it signifies a change in pace. It’s a moment where I give thanks for having more than enough to eat. It’s a moment where I ask for God’s blessing on my preparations. It’s a little holy moment. (Plus when the family sees it lit they can stop asking when they can expect dinner! The candle is lit = food is on the way. So be patient.)
3. Teach the children how to set the table. It needn’t be elaborate every night (although sometimes that is fun just for kicks!). The important thing is to let children participate in the setting.
4. Add an adornment to your table, such as a vase of flowers. Children love to have the responsibility of making a table pretty. So let them! Just a few clippings of flowers or herbs from the yard are fine. And if you don't have flowers yet (I don't!) candles really dress things up!
5. Unplug. Don’t allow technology to encroach on your meal times. Don’t let family members bring their phones to the table. Switch off the television and turn down the ringer on the home phone if you still have one. Let the world continue spinning without your monitoring it. Take a moment to appreciate a table prepared before you.
At first all this may seem terribly complicated but in time, preparing a table will become part of your daily routine. Sitting down together and saying grace will become a favorite moment of the day for everyone in the family. Everyone will begin to look forward to it, to count on it, to save their best stories and jokes for meal time. You will have time to look at one another and accept one another.
And as it becomes a natural part of your life, when this quarantine lifts maybe you will feel more and more comfortable with inviting others outside your family to join you. You’ll begin, perhaps, with friends you’ve been meaning to have over. And soon you’ll extend it to people you pass in church and the Lord has been prompting you to reach out to them. From there you might invite neighbors and work colleagues. Eventually you’ll be comfortable to invite the stranger–the one you don’t even know–to your table. And one day, you may entertain those angels unaware. It all starts with PREPARING A TABLE.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2