“I don’t really want a Shamrock Shake. I just want the feeling I had: 7 years old and my mom bought me one after the parade.”
My cousin Greg posted this on Facebook a few weeks back. His status update touched me so that first I found myself laughing and then tearing up remembering his mother, my Aunt Jane. We exchanged a few private messages after that where he recalled with me that this was common practice for his mom, one passed on, evidently, by our grandmother — that of special treats communicating something about love. That shamrock shake, in fact, was his mother’s way of saying, “I love you and you’re special to me.”
Meals and memory do get all tied up together, don’t they?
My dad’s family, for instance, had a tradition of sharing a meal of steak and Boston baked beans on Saturday night. It was carried on into my growing up generation, too. With the advent of a deeper understanding of the connection between heart disease and diet — and also with him no longer here to ensure the cut of steak we share is the most tender, we haven’t carried it on. Even so we remember him still at the head of the table brandishing his knife and steel and as the feast made its way around the table him laughing and saying, “It’s just another Saturday night at the Hunt house.”
And passed on from my mother’s side is the tradition of baking bread and the learned memory of a grandmother we never knew kneading the dough twice a week to ensure her family was fed. And the Christmas traditions of lefse and rice pudding and, at least in earlier years, yes, the lutefisk. (I’m not all that sorry to say, that last tradition has gone by the wayside, too.) A few years back I found myself standing in the kitchen on Christmas Eve stirring the rice pudding and my mother remembered her dad doing the same so many years ago.
Those meals tell stories of origins and hopes, of identity and sacrifice. And joy. I don’t pass the meat cooler at the grocery store without remembering my dad or sink my fists into bread dough without thinking of my mother and a grandmother I never knew. My cousin wistfully remembers his mother every time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around and that feeling of being special and loved. It’s not so different with the stories of other family meals passed on to us from ancestors in the faith.
Indeed, is it any wonder that God’s people for all remembered time have tied memory to food?
And we do, in fact, have all kinds of accounts of family meals passed on to us — all amazing gifts of God — laced throughout the Biblical witness. We recall Abraham and Sarah preparing and serving a calf, tender and good, when three strangers came to visit and the manna provided in the wilderness for God’s people on their way to the Promised Land. We remember the story of the Prodigal Son and how he was welcomed home with a feast far beyond his own deserving. We recall Jesus feeding thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread and of course, his sharing the Passover Meal with his disciples mere hours before his betrayal and suffering and dying. It is, of course this meal we remember as we share it again this week when we gather on the evening before Good Friday. The Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist. Holy Communion. We share together these bits of bread and sips of wine or grape juice which speak to us of our origin and hope, of identity and sacrifice. And utter joy. We share this meal which carries with it the message, “I love you and you’re special to me” as we offer again the very gifts of God with the words, “The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”
What meals hold special memories for you? Who do you associate with them? Which ones do you carry on?
Which accounts of Biblical Meals carry special meaning for you? Why is that?
When you think of the Holy Meal we share as the family of God, what do you call it? The Lord’s Supper? Holy Communion? The Eucharist? Why? What does what you call the meal say about what it means to you?
How was the story of this particular meal we celebrate on Maundy Thursday passed on to you? What meaning does the sharing of it have in your life today?
While this meal does indeed carry the message, “I love you and you’re special to me” it carries other gifts as well. What are those gifts for you?