turning tables

Apr 7, 2020

“While at supper with his disciples…”

Meal time in our family was a reasonably structured routine, and that was not uncommon in family homes when I was a child.

It was routine for us to have every meal with the whole family sitting together at the kitchen table, TV off of course and not a cell phone in sight. Sunday nights were an exception and we loved the informality and simplicity of that weekly meal, usually as simple as saveloys or cheese on toast (mousetraps) , around the fire in the winter and often outside in the summer.

Breakfast was a simple come-and-go affair without a tablecloth, with spoons and knives with Weet-Bix and toast in all directions. Dinner had more of a ritual attached. Always the table was set, more casual for the midday meal, but the evening dinner was more formally arranged with each of us taking turns at setting the table.

Someone must have given our family a set of children’s knives and forks, very small to fit a toddler’s hands, and we knew we had reached a significant milestone when we were ready to use the same knives and forks as our parents.

Once we were at the table there were some things that were taken for granted. We didn’t begin to eat until everyone was seated at the table with food on the plate in front of them. Dessert (back then called pudding) was not served until everyone had finished their main course. We didn’t leave the table without asking and being granted permission, and we knew there was no point in asking until every person at the table had finished eating. At this point children would usually have to do the washing up and parents with any other visitors would stay on talking at the table for much longer.

I suppose all that sounds a bit formal and 1950’s boarding-schoolish! But we grew to love the table and the life that happened around it. Some of our best family conversations and greatest laughs and fights happened around that table. The family ritual of eating around the table seemed to bring together the highs and lows of the lives of each of us and if it wasn’t for the daily table gatherings we would have missed out on a lot and wouldn’t know each other as well.

It was a few years later when I heard the altar at church being called the “table” and I made the connection with the table at home. Both the home table and the church table were for me places of companionship and nourishment. Both had food and ritual and etiquette and I knew that both were essential for me.

Each of these tables made sense to me only in the context of the other, the table at home as a symbol of family life and work and study life, and the table of the church symbolising faith which brings meaning to all human existence.

In these lockdown days we are confined to the table of the home, and at best we connect with the liturgy of the church by live-streaming which while often helpful is a poor substitute for the active participation we desire.

Every Sunday for centuries preachers have encouraged parishioners to turn what they participate in at the table of the Eucharist to every encounter and each moment of every day and night in the week ahead. But perhaps these lockdown days of being denied participation in the liturgy and the sacraments at the altar turns us to the table of our own personal prayer with a renewed enthusiasm for practicing our Monday to Saturday rituals of faith.

As we make this Holy Week journey with Jesus through suffering and death to resurrection, and while grieving the unavailability of the Liturgy of the Church, let’s grasp the opportunity to deepen our personal, family and household relationship with Jesus at the table of the home.

An Invitation:

+ Here is today’s gospel as a 20 minute Lectio Divina meditation. Simply sit comfortably, turn off your phone, press play and pray.

+Another LEGO reflection.


+ An excerpt from Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday homily from last Sunday

…when we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. Jesus experienced total abandonment in a situation he had never before experienced in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, for all of us; he did it to say to us: “Do not be afraid, you are not alone. I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you”. That is the extent to which Jesus served us: he descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment. Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: “Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you”.

Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbours. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing at this time summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love. So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One – look upon the Crucified One! – the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and, – fixing our gaze on the Crucified One – let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.

Complete text at this link


Link to readings of today, Tuesday in Holy Week.


  1. Thank you Fr John. The table is still central in our home.

  2. I reveal my age saying I remember those toasted cheese sandwiches in front of the fire. Mum put onion in them too!

    The phrase that struck me in the reflection was “you will follow me later”. Mmmm. My own death. I remember a Mercy Sister telling us a special grace to pray for was for “a happy death”. Then it did not make much sense. Now, seeing hundreds die…. it does. Especially the hope that I and we will follow into God’s love.

  3. My life. The table of my childhood and the table I have handed on to my children and they in turn are turning on for their families. A lit candle signifying Christ among us in the center. My children have added a ritual of the star plate to their communion meal, awarded by consensus to a member whose effort is recognised as being special today – a joy or a sorrow, a victory or a wound. Today the altar table and communion will bring to mind age to age, east to west.

  4. Our house and table routine was the same as your house. After dinner was always a robust discussion on topics of the day, local and NZ politics, church, work, stuff happening in the local community. Sunday was always a big roast with mum going to early Mass and being home to manage the family dinner. Great times and very simple times as we actually communicated with each other.

  5. Leaning back on Jesus’ breast …

    • My parents would take us children to weekly Sunday Mass then enjoy a late breakfast and a Sunday roast all around the old wooden long kitchen table.
      My parents were my first teachers of the faith. Without them I may not have encountered the gift of knowing Jesus.

  6. 14 and 9 year old granddaughters saying this is their best holiday ever. No rushing about, just eating at the table with their parents. Great time for parents to focus on their children and all be together.

  7. I so resonated with your childhood family table as the gift of my childhood too.
    The Saturday night tea trolley and eating on our knees in the lounge. Our family table honed our questioning and learning skills too. So often the dictionary, the atlas or the encyclopedia needed to be consulted. Such a sound basis for Eucharist meal table.

  8. Outstanding reflection/meditation– thank you Father John

  9. A lovely trip down memory lane with today’s reflection. And every evening, immediately after dinner together, we knelt down and prayed the Rosary as a family. Dishes done after that!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Posts

a friend within

a friend within

Let’s learn both from Anton’s life and from John’s reflection to seek more passionately the ultimate relationship

a thin place

a thin place

Awareness of Thin Places has become a sabbatical theme for me.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi

Orvieto is a beautiful Italian hill-top settlement where all roads lead to the magnificent medieval Cathedral.

growing young

growing young

A simple experiment will give a more personal experience of the life that is on offer.