The Family Dinner Table

By Connie W. Adams

Throughout the Bible the word “table” has been used both literally and figuratively. When God gave instruction about the tabernacle, he ordered a table of shewbread (Exod. 25:23). The Psalmist described the bounty of God’s provision in that “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” (Ps. 23:5). In the time of Malachi divine worship had been polluted in that animals which were sick or lame were brought for sacrifice. In doing so Malachi charged that they said in essence, “the table of the Lord is contemptible” (Mal. 1:7).

When Jesus sat at the Passover table with his disciples, he instituted the Lord’s supper and said, “I appoint unto you a kingdom that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30). The Lord’s table holds a central place in the kingdom of the Lord. It is there that we remember his sacrifice, that we commune with the body and blood of our Savior and that we look longingly to his coming again. Paul said we are “partakers of the Lord’s table” (1 Cor. 10:21) and pointed out that we cannot eat at the table of the Lord and the table of devils. We cannot have communion with both.

As Paul asked later, “what fellowship hath light with darkness .. . what communion hath the temple of God with idols” (2 Cor. 6:14-18)? Tables symbolize oneness, communion. How treacherous that one of Jesus’ disciples “which sat at the table with him” should leave that place of closeness to strike his evil bargain to betray the Son of God.

The Family Table

Historically the family table has not only met the physical needs of its members, but has done much to nourish their emotional needs as well. In godly homes, the table has been the place where God is thanked for daily provisions. It has been a place for shared moments for laughter, for concern, for instruction and training and has done much to establish memories which contribute to lasting bonds within a family. “Dinner is ready” has been a welcomed sound to many for a long time.

The demands of modern life in our culture have been such that the value (or even presence) of a family table has been diminished. In many a household, families do not eat together. It is difficult to set a time when everyone is present at the same time. Work schedules, school functions, part-time jobs, the desire to eat in a separate room to see something on television, or the notion that “I’ll eat when I am hungry” has interfered with the family table. Many in the present time regard anything which smacks of a routine or schedule as sinister. Forgotten is the fact that family meals are not just to satisfy hunger. They are social events  a time for families to share the same food at the same time, to talk of the events of the day, learn about what happened at work, at school. It is an ideal time for children to listen to their parents and learn something of their heritage. It is a time which ought to challenge every parent to make the occasion special.

Ah, but therein lies some of the problem. A family dinner demands, well, a dinner. And who shall prepare it? Whose turn is it to make dinner? The absence of a full-time homemaker in the modem home does create special problems about family meals. It is hard to set a time when everyone can be together. The lack of parental control of children whose whims and boorish manners set the agenda in too many households is a further hindrance to any kind of family dinner time. Parents who allow their children to grow up with picky eating habits deserve whatever grief and embarrassment that may cause them.

The Family Table in a Yard Sale

I always knew the family dinner table was special but I had it brought home to me in poignant manner which I will never forget. After my mother died in 1995, we decided to have a yard sale to dispose of things we did not intend to keep in the family. It fell the lot of Bobby and me to conduct the yard sale with the help of good folks from the congregation where my mother had attended at Rivermont (Chester), Virginia. We had two days of it and it went fairly well. I have never liked yard sales and some-how the excitement which seems to grip some about them has eluded me. It was distasteful to watch strangers rummage through things which my parents had handled so many times in the course of a lifetime. But I did all right with that until late the second day. We had all decided to sell the old kitchen table and six chairs (we used extra chairs at numerous times). The table was topped with a hard, vinyl-like surface with chrome legs and strips around the top. The chairs had been patched a number of times but were still sturdy and serviceable. Late that day, an older couple came and bought the table and chairs. As they loaded these on a pickup truck, I watched in silence as they hauled it up the hill. And then I had to go in the house for awhile to collect my thoughts and emotions. Through my tears I reflected on a flood of memories all of which had that table right in the middle of them.

At that table we learned respect for each other and especially our elders. We had our turns to say what we wantedto say, but we did not interrupt when the “grown folks” were talking. At the family supper table I learned so much about the men with whom my father worked that I felt like I knew them all. From my father and mother we learned much about our heritage. Our grandmother added much spice with her stories of times past. Somehow we felt attached to the people and places of which they spoke so fondly. At that table I learned not to aggravate my brother, at least not in reach of my fathers hand! The only time I remember that he ever physically struck me was over just such an occasion. It startled everyone and scared the living daylights out of me! My father’s method of correction was usually to talk to us in such a way that we felt ashamed of ourselves. His sudden action was totally unexpected, uncharacteristic, and never forgotten.

It was at that table, when I was eleven years old, that my parents explained to us why we were leaving the Christian Church, in which we had many relatives and long-time friends. Serious Bible talk made lasting impressions. Somehow, at that table, we were all one family. There we could mourn our losses, savor our victories, commiserate with one another, pass down folk-lore from one generation to another. There at that table the pressures and stresses of the day, of work, school and play, dissolved as we sat down together. The food was not always gourmet, but it was abundant (even in hard times) and lovingly prepared. We did not have the finest china and silverware, but we sure did set the table with love.

And now, that table with all its memories had just been hauled away by strangers who could never fully know what memories had been made around it. It was just an inanimate object. Had I known what emotions the selling of it would evoke, it would never have been sold. That inanimate object was the centerpiece of events which had much to do with who we all became and what we have tried to do with our lives.

So, amid the rush and press of life as it is lived today, don’t forget the importance of the family dinner table. Take time to eat together, then sit back for a little while and savor the moment and talk to each other. Neglecting the family dinner table will have the same harmful effect on your physical family as neglecting the “table of the Lord” will have on your spiritual family. Do you think it was just an accident that the Lord chose a table as the place to re-member his suffering and to renew our hope for the world to come?

Guardian of Truth XLI: 24 p. 3-4
December 18, 1997