Today is my birthday and it is fair to say that the celebrations largely involved food. The day began with when my younger daughter and her boyfriend popped round for brunch in the garden (cold but it was great to be together). An after stroll was followed by birthday cake and then a film (Arrival – it was good) followed by a takeaway. The food on each occasion was lovely, but the important bit was the companions it was shared with.
The word companion comes from ‘panis,’ the Latin word for bread. Originally, the word was used to describe someone with whom you shared a meal, the ones you ate with, the ones you broke bread with, the ones you shared a table with.
Speaking to friends and colleagues, high on most people’s agendas as we emerge from lockdown is to eat and drink with friends, be that a cup of tea and a cake, a beer and a burger, or a celebratory meal. Eating together is one of the key ways we express friendship and community, it is often the glue that holds groups together.
As a follower of Jesus, I am struck by how important table fellowship was to his life and ministry. His detractors call him a glutton and a drunkard, and although that is probably an exaggeration, the truth remains that it was important for Jesus to share food with people. He’s like a companion who sits at table with us, who laughs and cries with us, who listens to us, who shares with us, and who invites us to be transformed, to grow, to be more fully human … He’s a glutton for friendship, he’s drunk on grace.
One of my favourite songs of the past twelve months was released by the Highwomen, a collaboration between four talented country singers – Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires – and written with Lori McKenna who has appeared in this blog before.
The song is about that longing for community, for a place where everyone has a chance to share bread together. The chorus goes like this:
I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we’re young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done.
As I listen to these words, there are all sorts of connections – I think about important celebratory meals that I have shared with friends and family, I think about all those times when the table seemed too small, I think about communion, I think about my longing for connections, for ‘companions on the way.
Ironically, I also think about the proposed European Super League that has vexed so many football fans over the past couple of weeks. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that proposal, essentially the richest and so-called biggest clubs in England, Italy and Spain decided that they didn’t want to dine at the same table as the Burnleys and Crystal Palaces of the world. They wanted to feast in isolation. Too often that is the way of the world, the rich feast in opulent splendour, congratulating themselves, whilst the poor are forced to scavenge for the scraps that fall from the rich man’s table. Such practices are anathema to the vision of this song, and dare I say it to Jesus’ own practices. As such, they become a sign of death, not of life.
The vision of this song is captured in the final stanza of the song. It is a vision of a table where all are welcome, all are included and everyone belongs – we belong because of our shared humanity, because we are all a little broken.
The door is always open
Your picture’s on my wall
Everyone’s a little broken
And everyone belongs
Yeah, everyone belongs.