When I was growing up, our family sat down to dinner every weeknight at 5:30 P.M. without fail. Even though my mother and father both worked, even though my brother and I were both involved in sports, plays and other activities, still, every night dinner was on the table at 5:30 and we were all there.
Of course, my grandmother lived with us and had the meal prepared and ready to serve when we got home. Even if she had not lived with us, that would only have meant that we would have eaten a little later — we still would have all had a meal together. It was a time for conversation, catching up on the day, and just talking together. Sometimes the conversation would get rather lively and sometimes the conversations got more like arguments, but we were still together.
On Sundays, there was always a special dinner and we were expected to be there also — to come in from playing, to come home from a friend’s house, to get up from in front of the television, leave the game. And every meal was a full meal even when we had leftovers — never once do I remember that our dinner came wrapped, bagged, or boxed. That’s just the way things were.
However, things are not that way anymore for many people. Given all the different schedules and the racing from here to there, more and more people no longer sit down together for a full meal with family and friends. Rather, more and more people have what one columnist has called “food contacts.” The idea is to eat a little bit whenever you are hungry, but eat nutritious and nourishing foods if you can. Therefore, a person may have 10-12 food contacts throughout the day. The other name for this practice is “grazing.” Instead of sitting down for three squares a day, or gathering for a feast, people now graze here and there as they go through the day.
Someone has suggested that religion for more and more people has also become a matter of grazing. Instead of sitting down for a full course, today people seem to make “God contacts” here and there: they catch a religious program on TV, worship now and then, drop the kids off at Sunday School, maybe even meditate for a moment. For some this can be nourishing in a way, and here I think of those who are shut-in and find TV worship services a good alternative, a way to be part of worship without being present. But for many it’s a diet food approach, even a fast food approach: it may satisfy for the moment, but you never feel full. Somehow, you are always left a little empty.
Down through the centuries, one of the great images of the Christian faith has been that of the Great Banquet, the feast in the presence of God. It’s an image that speaks to fullness, having our hunger satisfied, the emptiness taken away. But for that to happen, we must come in, sit down at the table, go for the full course, be a part of the family. We must worship, serve, come to know one another, seek to learn, and be nourished by God and His word. For that to happen, we must not just graze or nibble here and there, but rather, come in and feast on the love and strength of God.
I think the season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, February 26, is a good time to go in for the full course, to worship on Wednesday evenings, to pray and meditate each day, to engage in study, to commit ourselves to serve Christ in whatever way we can, to reach out to others with care and support, or to involve ourselves in ministry of the congregation or the community.
What it can lead to is a feast of hope and gladness in Christ!
God be with you,