There was the year somebody — I won’t say who — forgot to remove the plastic cover before putting the turkey into the oven. Some of us older children thought it was our duty to warn everyone, despite the best efforts of the kitchen crew to “carve” the plastic away like so many Michelangelos, liberating the true form of turkey from the false outer husk of plastic hardened into something like marble.
No doubt the family also appreciated our efforts to provide culinary recommendations: sweet potato casserole = good; asparagus casserole = bad.
One year some of us younger folks did a prison-break of sorts, declining our provided place at the card table in the den, wanting to see what it was like to enjoy Thanksgiving in the dining room. I guess we forgot that part of Scripture about being invited to the head table.
After dinner there was always a sampling of pies and cakes, then an outdoor game of football with cousins, then a stomach ache and a nap. The late evening meal was whatever you could find, or whatever couldn’t fit into the fridge — a couple pieces of turkey, the asparagus casserole that for some reason didn’t get eaten, and more pie.
You have your own Thanksgiving memories. These are mine. Enjoying them in memory is like savoring leftovers; but you can’t do that without the regret that comes with the realization that things won’t be like that again. Feasts and times for family gathering are precious because of what they are in themselves, not because they last forever (they don’t).
My grandparents reached that time in life where they gave up their house which had hosted so many meals like these for 30 or 40 people. Family celebrations rooted in place dispersed into the world, like a great old tree uprooted from the earth loses its leaves to the wind. Generational changes mean that there are too many people in too many families spread around the country to gather like we once did. Important people in those memories are gone, too. But I’m grateful nonetheless.
Maybe it’s no accident that the word “Thanksgiving” is a translation for the word “Eucharist.” In your church or in your experience you may know “Eucharist” as communion, or the Lord’s supper. It’s the holy meal that Christians celebrate to remember and experience the presence of God through bread and wine. I won’t get into specifics here since there is no great ecumenical agreement as to what “Eucharist” really means. What it “means” is that God decided that one of the great symbols of God’s love and presence was people gathered around a table.
But that’s not all it means. It’s not just a memory, something that happened long ago that we enact as a way to remind us that God was once with us. It’s not even something we do to get closer to God, if only for a moment. It’s the symbol that God uses to say that there will be more meals to come, more bread to share.
Because memory only satisfies for a while. We get hungry again, hungry for more, hungry for a meal in the presence of love, hungry for the kingdom of God. What we really want is another meal around the table, with Jesus as host, where memories that fade become full and alive, and so do we. Says the host at the great dinner, “Come; for everything is ready now” (Luke 14:17). Says Jesus, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They shall be filled.”
Will Scott is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton. His column appears the fourth Friday of the month.