And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” – Luke 22:14-15
After more than a week of traveling to visit some of my dearest friends and family and halfway into another week back in New Orleans where I have two more dear friends visiting me – I am stuffed! In the last two weeks I have eaten at half a dozen nice restaurants, I have grabbed some food at local dives, I have eaten meals cooked by friends, I have played sous-chef to my sister as she cooked large feasts for a crowd, and, admittedly, I have engaged in meal-planning for far-into-the-future reunions with these same friends and family. As one popular New Orleans t-shirt company immortalized, “Let’s eat lunch and talk about dinner.”
Why is sharing a meal so important to how we relate to one another? What makes our time at the table together so sacred? Why does food seem to taste better when it’s shared?
Jesus “earnestly” wanted to share the Passover feast with his disciples. He knew that his earthly life was coming to an end, and he had some important things to share. One of the things he shared at his Last Supper is what we call the Lord’s Supper – or Communion. At the Passover meal, Jesus takes the loaf of bread and the cup of wine, asks God to bless them, passes them around, and tells his followers to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him. This is a ritual that is still going strong today. My church celebrates communion weekly or monthly depending on what service you attend, and Catholics celebrate the Eucharist, as they call communion, at every mass. Why did Jesus want so badly to eat the Passover feast with his disciples? Why was leaving them with this ritual around food one of the last things he did?
Several years ago when I taught AP Literature, someone gave me a great book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor. The second chapter of the book is entitled “Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion.” The author, Thomas C. Foster argues that in literature as in life, “Generally eating with another is a way of saying, ‘I’m with you, I like you, we form a community together.’” When people sit down to eat together – in a book or in life – pay attention to the creation of community that’s taking place. Eating together is communion; it’s an intimate experience that brings us together.
So Jesus, in sharing a meal with his disciples wanted to gather them together – closer to him and closer to each other before his suffering. Despite a lot of foreshadowing, the disciples were clueless about what was about to happen after the Passover meal. However, reading it today, we know that when Jesus referred to his suffering he was talking about his violent death, which would take place the next day. Jesus didn’t want to dwell on his death in the hours beforehand. Instead, he wanted to spend time with his closest friends, to feel joy, to leave them with a way to remember him, and to gather strength for the trials ahead.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and we come together for the same reasons. Maybe you’re with family that you won’t see again for awhile. The Thanksgiving holiday is a way to create memories that will last longer than a single meal. Maybe the last few weeks have been tough or you’re fearful about the trials and transitions ahead. Dwelling on our trials or worrying about the future isn’t very productive. What we can do is set aside our present suffering and help prepare the feast. We can gather around the table with loved ones. We can seek to be present, to feel joy, to create memories, and to gather strength from togetherness for whatever lies ahead. May Thanksgiving be a time of communion for each of you! Happy Thanksgiving! And thank YOU for reading.