We stayed up on New Year’s Eve for herring and akvavit at midnight, Dad and I. A nice dark pumpernickel for the herring, a fresh baguette for some caraway flavored Tilsit and, of course, marzipan and coffee. We toasted my step-mother, presumably asleep in her rehab unit after breaking her hip on Christmas Eve day. We toasted the new year, my brothers, one another, Denmark, memories, the goodness of family tradition.
It has not been an easy few days for my Father. We have pressured him into having a home health care aid while he waits for Gloria to come home, knowing there will probably be even greater need then. Like any of us, he has not wanted to admit any need. But it is for Gloria’s peace of mind, and that of his boys. We cannot be here every day. We all live in another state.
But food has a strange power to make things seem right. I made Hakkabuff when one of my brothers was here to help make arrangements. Hakkabuff and boiled potatoes with gravy, pickled red beets and cucumber salad. It is delicious by itself, but it carries with it memories of farmor, and the farm, and family together at their house after they retired and moved into town. When we eat Hakkabuff, my brother Ken is there, and Anna, and Farmor and Farfar, and Uncle Erik and Aunt Betty, and my cousin, Jim – all those who lie in the grave. They are present because these foods connect us to all the times of our lives.
The same is true of the herring and akvavit, the tilsit and pumpernickel, the chocolate covered marzipan and coffee. These are foods that are part of our story. And so we can face the challenge of change that besets us, of strangers in the house, of therapists and social workers and case managers and home care workers. The foods tell us we are still the same family, the same people bound together in life and love.
My new son-in-law came to join the extended family for Christmas Eve dinner. I, of course, could not be there. But they were able to go, in spite of Gloria’s fall. They were with all the cousins. They ate the herring, drank the akvavit, made the toasts, sang the songs, shared the roast pork and roast duck and laughed with Alan when he got the blanched almond in the rice pudding (and the marzipan prize). I have been trying for three years to get my daughter and her then intended to go to this dinner, for this is how the family is woven together, how new members are joined to the family story. It is how the story goes on, even when some are taken away.
So Dad and I toast the new year, and in so doing toast all the years that have come before, and all the years yet to come. We toast the bonds of love. We toast the shared story. We toast the grace of God that has carried us through all the challenges and joys. And, at this table, we know we shall be able to go forward and meet the challenges of the days to come.
There is a reason that the center of worship is a shared table and a shared story. We call it Word and Sacrament, but that expression doesn’t capture the real truth of what happens around the table we call an altar. For the real truth is the creating and sustaining of a community, bound by a shared story of creation, redemption and new creation, a shared story of divine love and a commission to live that love.