My mother went to be with Jesus on May 22, 2003. Following her stroke the fall of 1999, dad devoted his life to mom’s full time care. As happens far too often, most of their friends left them. Since her care routine did not permit for morning outings, they could not attend church services and were quickly forgotten. Rather than accept isolation, dad began taking mom out to an early supper several times a week, which was no small effort on his part. Dad washed, clothed and fed mom and lifted her several dozen times each day and night, from bedroom to bathroom, wheelchair to recliner, in and out of the car.
Restaurants provided mom with loving human contact, which was a healing balm for her spirit and helped to prolong her life. No matter how many times the wait staff came to the table, she greeted them with a cheerful “oh, Hi!” and one-armed hug. They remained with mom as long as it took her to order, which was in itself an act of love and grace since the stroke left mom unable to speak except for a few nonsensical words. The kitchen staff even helped to take care of mom, by cutting up her meat, customizing meals and coming out to greet her, where many more hugs were given and received.
Among the many cards and letters my dad received following mom’s death, were several from the restaurants they enjoyed. All were deeply touching and conveyed love and admiration, but one in particular set me to pondering with the observation:
“Funny how a simple restaurant can make strangers feel like family.”
A few days after mom passed, dad and I went to the restaurant they frequented most often. Once seated, one after another, the wait staff embraced my dad and expressed their sorrow with tears and kisses. Though I was a stranger to many of them, I too was comforted with hugs and tears. It did indeed feel like family.
If I were to describe the Church in Acts with a single word, it would be “family”. How they loved to “break bread” from house to house, sharing meals together and telling of the ways in which Jesus was working in their lives. Breaking bread (communion) in the early Church was not at all like it is today, where people eat a small cube of bread and wash it down with a thimble full of grape juice, while facing the backs of the people seated in front of them.
It isn’t difficult to view communion as a complete and festive meal when it’s understood that the Lord’s Supper was a traditional Jewish Passover meal (Luke 22:7-13), where roast lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread and wine were served (Exodus 12) and the disciples ate their fill. When Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) surely He meant that He wants us to feast together often, where we commune with each other and by virtue of Christ in us, commune with Christ Himself.
In terms of celebrating fellowship over a shared meal (Acts 2:46 and 6:1), restaurants more closely resemble the types of gatherings practiced in the early Church, than the scripted religious services common today. Perhaps churches could learn a few lessons from restaurants and humble, loving food servers, who by waiting on the needs of the hungry, help to create a festive atmosphere where strangers are brought together, relationships are formed and sometimes God does something wonderful as He did for my parents.
In the end, it is our common need for food, real and spiritual together with our need for relationship with God and one another, that draws strangers together like family.
How I pray we return to our Father’s banquet table.
PS, Dad, in laying down your life to take care of mom, you gave me a glimpse of Jesus. “Greater love hath no man, than he lay down his life for a friend.” To our extended family at the Oak Table Cafe in Sequim, thank you for your love and compassion and for being there for us in so many ways during the last several years of mom’s life. You have shown my family love in action, and we are grateful to you all.