a table of forgetful remembrance
About a week ago we gathered some “foodie” friends for what is becoming an annual tradition: Mock Thanksgiving. It’s like a dry run for a Thanksgiving that we would never actually serve to our families, an excuse to experiment with a menu that, for most of us, is set in stone for the actual day.
Mock Thanksgiving is a meal of which my mother would not approve, one in which creativity trumps tradition. The standard turkey gives way to an herb-roasted bird stuffed with onions and lemons. Ordinary mashed potatoes are usurped by garlic smashed new potatoes. In place of green beans almandine, oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with cranberries and goat cheese. And the ultimate desecration (by my mother’s East Coast reckoning): In place of bread stuffing, cornbread chorizo dressing that has never seen the inside of a bird. We dine al fresco on these foods offered to the idols of our culinary creativity, savoring every minute of this forbidden meal, this work of holiday fiction.
As much as I love Mock Thanksgiving, I have to admit that I, too, want Thanksgiving Day to follow its time-honored script. I associate certain dishes with that day and that day alone. They may not win awards for culinary achievement, but that’s hardly the point - they taste like a homecoming. They are a remembrance of Thanksgivings past, an assembly of recipes faithfully prepared just as some dear relative made them for decades. On this day of remembrance, the very food itself is a remembrance of those who have shaped who we are.
The Bible is full of this idea of meals of remembrance, of sacred repetitions, of significant repasts. It permeates the Passover meal instituted to remind God’s people of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Roast lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread – reminders to thankfulness and watchfulness and freedom. It permeates the Lord’s Supper – wine and broken bread – a gathering of the family of believers in which the very food itself is a remembrance of Him who has shaped who we are. Reminders to thankfulness and watchfulness and freedom.
On some level, every gathering of family around a table is a shadow of this idea of remembrance, a time when we recall our collective history, making days like Thanksgiving ones we anticipate with a mix of joy and dread, depending on who will pull up a chair to the feast. Why? Because our collective history is often dotted with land mines – difficult personalities, past hurts, broken relationships. For many of us, our Thanksgiving table will be populated by more than just our current incarnations. We will dine with a host of our past selves, clinging to the hope that familiar recipes will preserve the ties of family until the pie has been served and the door has closed behind the last guest.
Which is why days like Thanksgiving are not merely calls to remembrance but also calls to forgetfulness – no, not the forgetfulness of lost car keys or misplaced TV remotes, but the intentional forgetting of what has gone before, the setting aside of past offenses, the laying down of our claims to restitution for old wounds. We are called to a forgetful forgiveness of others – the kind our Heavenly Father practices toward us – in which we decide not to remember. Though the record of our hurts may never fade from our consciousness, we consciously set it aside. It is a deliberate forgetfulness of the offenses of others and a studied forgetfulness of the sins of our own past – a refusal to let them continue to dictate the course of our decisions and reactions.
This is hard for us. We tend to remember what should be forgotten and forget what should be remembered. We tend to make sacred repetition of the ways we have been harmed, of the ways we have harmed others. Unbelievably, we choose to dine on food sacrificed to the idols of our hurts and failures rather than on the bread of redemption and the wine of forgiveness. Mock Thanksgiving. And yet, every table where family gathers is an invitation to dine on the forgetful remembrance that has been shown to us in Christ, a chance to embrace and to demonstrate the ministry of remembering what matters and forgetting what does not.
So if your Thanksgiving table threatens not to mirror Rockwellian bliss, consider this recipe of forgetful remembrance as part of your annual gathering:
Remember your Egypt. Remember your bondage to sin. Remember your path to freedom. Remember the deeds of the Lord, ponder his works, meditate on his mighty deeds. Like your Heavenly Father, remember mercy and set aside wrath. Not all at your table have tasted freedom.
Forget your Egypt. Forget the sins you loved more than your freedom. Forget the offenses of others against you. Forget to be angry, defensive, hurt, crippled by that which has come before. Forget as your sins have been forgotten. Not all at your table are capable of asking for mercy. Ladle it with liberality anyway.
What gratitude would flow from this exercise? What thanksgiving? For those who have dined on the sacred, the Thanksgiving table becomes a feast of forgetful remembrance. For forgetful remembrance is grace - the taste of a homecoming remembered, the foretaste of a homecoming yet to come. On Thanksgiving years from now when our grandchildren gather to serve this most familiar of meals, may the table still be laid with the flavors of homecoming – may we still be serving the very grace that was served for us, in which all true thankfulness finds its source.