It’s Easter and the family, as well as friends who feel like family, are coming for lunch. I’ve shone the spare cutlery, counted out the plates and mulled over recipes, making sure the menu accommodates dietary differences. As usual we will join a couple of tables together and assemble our motley collection of chairs so we can all sit around the one table. And for the grandchildren there will be an after lunch easter egg hunt.
A full table, but at some time during the meal I will be conscious of missing faces – loved family members who have died, those who live far away and the one or two who choose to absent themselves from any family gatherings. It’s a joyful occasion, being together for a few hours, not long enough really for relationship cracks to show. Because the cracks are there and all joy is tempered with regrets and loss.
There will be some family stories at our Easter lunch but I’m guessing there will be no mention of the Christ we are actually celebrating. We are a long way from the first Christians, gathered around a table set with bread and wine, telling their stories of Jesus over and over again. The pain of losing Jesus and the joy of his presence in the memories of him they shared along with the bread and wine gave them the strength and connectedness to take back to their daily lives. I wonder how soon after his death did his followers carry out Jesus’ request, “Do this in memory of me”?
My family, and I suspect many other families, don’t speak that language any more. Somehow, amid our must-have technology we’ve lost the religious and symbolic language we need to grasp the mysterious reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Chocolate bunnies don’t exactly fill the gap.
Yet we are constantly reading each other’s Good Friday and Easter Sunday stories. There won’t be an adult person sitting at my table this Easter who hasn’t experienced pain, grief, rejection, maybe even despair. They are familiar with joy and the vague ache that comes with it, that desire to stay in the moment, the deep down voice that says, “But wait, there’s more”.
There’s a God pull in all our deaths and resurrections but we seem to have forgotten how to decipher God- language. We don’t know how to read God in our own stories. Even when we share them with a friend or partner or put them on Facebook for all to see, it’s never quite enough. Two thousand years of institutional structures and wordiness have turned faith into religion, and it’s a poor substitute.
I will place a growing plant on the dinner table along with the chocolate Easter eggs and remember Jesus’ earthy words about seeds and dying and new life bursting out of that dying. We may not be celebrating with bread and wine, but the substitutes will be enjoyed. The talk will tumble around the table and there will be laughter and a renewed appreciation and tolerance of each other. And I will know that Jesus is a guest at my table.