A table, four chairs, three bodies—this is what the holidays are to us now.
Our best china is overflowing with oranges and cranberries, turkey and dressing, potatoes and stuffing. We use cloth napkins and stemmed glasses, untying red aprons and warming serving trays. We sing songs and pray prayers, sharing knowing looks while holding shaking hands. This is what celebration is now.
Winter will blow her best winds—A cool, crisp gust signaling the start of gathering season. The breeze teases tradition and hope, whistling through our newfound holes and gaps. Its chill bites our wounds, echoing loudly against the empty chair. The table is full, but the chair remains unoccupied.
This year, we’ll listen to old recordings of Charlie Brown songs instead of a live performance on the piano. We’ll decide against hanging stockings, but maybe make Christmas morning cinnamon rolls if we’re feeling brave. Neighbors will visit and family will call, some avoiding the empty chair while others call it out, both serving as acknowledgments to us. We are thankful, and we are hurting.
The thing I remember most about past holidays, those with four filled chairs, is the raisin bread. It was and is our favorite, a holiday staple and familiar smell. We’d pass it around the table, the basket barely making it around the table once before needing to be refilled. It was a joyful, steady communion.
Now, we sit in a different arrangement than we used to—three at one end of the table, the gap moving to the end. I’m not sure if we do it to be closer or for the empty chair to be less pronounced, but my guess is certainly both. Yet, we still pass a basket of raisin bread during the holidays, our arms passing it through the empty space, but not around it. There’s no forgetting, no levity, no distracting, but there’s a steady communion nonetheless.
I wonder if Jesus’ disciples felt this way at the Last Supper, knowing their brother’s chair would soon be empty.
“And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
-1 Corinthians 11:24
We are called to remember the festive things, the joyful things, and, especially, the broken things. We do not hide away the empty chair, but rather, pull it closer to the table. Because, friends, once we allow it to sit amongst us, fellowshipping with the shattered holes we can’t cover any longer, we remember—we too, are broken. Yes, we are broken, but so is the bread. So was His body. All so that we may be whole once again. This is what celebration is now.
Lord, help us remember.
Be with the empty chairs and empty hearts this season.
Sit at our tables and show us the hope of Your wholeness.
May we partake in steady communion with Your presence.
We have walked in darkness; point us to your Great Light.