Thursday: Final Table

So, I hate to cook, and I’m terrible at it.

Well, “hate” is perhaps too strong a word.

But I missed a lot of days in the “Stuff Women Are Supposed To Know How To Do” classes, otherwise known as “American Gender Socialization,” and I’m just really bad a lot of that stuff.

I cook poorly, I can’t wrap a gift properly, I seem to lack maternal instincts entirely, and I don’t decorate to the point that friends have said my apartment looks like a padded cell.

As you might imagine from someone who does not enjoy cooking nor has ever bothered to really learn, I have never seen a cooking show in its entirety.

I know there are entire television networks devoted to food and cooking, hosted by celebrity chefs.

And I admire greatly people who cook as a hobby, hunting down obscure recipes and turning out glorious creations that are as much art as sustenance. But I will never be among them.

I count myself lucky to occasionally enjoy the fruits of their labors, and offer to wash the dishes in thanks.

Due to my lack of familiarity with culinary culture, I was surprised to hear of a specific tradition in the restaurant business among chefs, and the book someone wrote about it.

It turns out that once chefs reach a certain point of proficiency, they like to engage in a little thought experiment with each other.

You’ve heard of the question: “If you were abandoned on a desert island, what one book or album would you want with you?”

Well, chefs and cooks ask each other and themselves: “If it were your last night on earth, what and how would you prepare for your final meal?”

Author Melanie Dunea wrote to fifty of the most famous chefs in the world and asked, but she expanded the question to more than just the food they would cook. She asked where it would be, who would join them at the table, even what music would be playing as they ate.

Each response was paired with a photograph of the chef, and one recipe from the meal they described.

Although I have not read the book, only heard about it, by all accounts it made for a fascinating and poignant window into the priorities, tastes, and outlooks of these culinary artists.

One photograph was of a chef standing next to the boar he would slaughter and eat—“If I’m going, so is Boris,” he said.

But one of the most interesting vignettes was the one from the chef who refused to answer the question.

In the restaurant business, you hear reference to “openings” and “closings,” describing when a restaurant goes into or out of business.

This chef said he was totally uninterested in and borderline paranoid about closings, and all this talk of one’s last meal on earth smacked of closings. He would have no part of it.

But we all have to think about our final “closing,” so to speak.

Grappling with death is one of the central tasks of the spiritual life, whatever faith tradition one follows.

And at this moment, on Maundy Thursday, Jesus can certainly feel the maw gaping open before him.

He has less than twenty-four hours to live.

So ask yourself: if you had one more meal on earth to cook, eat, share, and savor, what would it be?

Would you in fact cook it yourself, or order from a favorite restaurant?

Comfort food or gourmet artisan fare?

Would you blow your savings on expensive ingredients or spend everything on traveling to some exotic locale, setting the table to eat on a beach in Tahiti or the banks of the Seine in Paris?

Who would be at your table?

What sounds would you hear—music? Nature? The voices of your loved ones?

Would it be a feast for twenty or an intimate dinner for two?

How would your “closing” take place? How would you express yourself and your life through your final meal?

It’s a fascinating question to ponder, and we understand why the chefs enjoy asking it.

It doesn’t just reveal one’s culinary tastes. It opens a door into one’s soul.

We see what they love by what they choose to surround and nourish themselves with as death approaches.

Now consider what day it is today. Consider what we’re celebrating, commemorating, pondering, reenacting this Maundy Thursday.

The Last Supper.

Jesus had the question put to him by a hostile and uncaring world out to kill him.

He could feel the noose tightening around him, and was aware that this Passover dinner was his last meal on earth.

Think about how he designed the meal.

It was in an Upper Room—quiet, private, intimate.

He would eat the traditional and most meaningful foods of his faith and his culture, foods that helped him live as deeply as possible into the story he was trying to embody and carry forward.

Now think about who he chooses to have with him at the table.

The twelve disciples, yes, but only in the most immediate and obvious sense.

Tonight is Jesus’ last meal on earth, and he chooses to spend it with us.

At this beautiful table, as Jesus stares down his own approaching arrest and crucifixion, he, with all of his power and glory, could have feasted on the finest food with the most famous and important people in the world—or above the world. He could have been attended by archangels if he so desired.

But when he had to ask the question: what will get me through the next twenty-four hours? How can I walk into the jaws of death and stay upright? What will nourish me the most as I eat and drink for the last time before I eat and drink in the Kingdom?

Who do I want by my side as I say goodbye to this beautiful, terrible world and give my life to try and save it?

He chooses us.

It is the last thing he asks of us, to sit with him at table and share a meal with him.

And his invitation opens a window into his soul—we see the radiance of his love.

The question could be put another way—if you knew you were going to die, what could you not do without? What would you cling to above all other things before you had to let it all go?

The answer, for Jesus, is us.

We are his final desire, his last request, his nourishment and his courage and his heart.

Let us break bread together tonight.

For tomorrow breaks our hearts.

 

 

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