Reflection 3: Meal of Condolence
Caroline van der Veen
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone, and the living will lay it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, NRSV)
When Pastor Andy asked me to share a reflection on a “memorable meal” in our congregation, I immediately thought of a very special meal. Even though it happened some years back, the impression it made on me remains vivid until today.
In 2012 my father died. Right after his funeral, my mother and I had to come to Geneva to say good-bye to our then pastor, Lusmarina and her husband Fico, who were moving back to Brazil. I was sad to see Lus and Fico leave, they were and are very dear to me. Lus had even sung at my father’s funeral with the help of modern technology (her song was recorded on my iPhone and played at the funeral).
In Geneva, one of the members of the neighbourhood group proposed a gathering at my place in honour of my father. She mentioned a Jewish custom of sharing a meal of condolence, the so-called Seudat Havra-ah, which in the Jewish tradition is the first meal after coming back from a funeral. At this meal the mourners are provided for by relatives and friends, or the community. This custom allows the community to show concern for the welfare of the mourners and to extend a comforting hand in the time of greatest need.
To be honest, we didn’t really feel like hosting people at our home. My mother worried that they (my parents) weren’t even members of our congregation, and she didn’t know the people who would come. And what would we offer them? We would not be the happy hosts who would welcome strangers with food and laughter while our hearts were heavy.
Yet we were told not to worry about anything, the people would bring their own food and drinks. And so it happened. A group of people from church came to my house (some of whom even I didn’t know!), bringing lots of delicious homemade food and drinks. We read the Bible, we sang, we ate, we drank, we laughed and we cried. People shared stories about their loved ones and about how in their tradition people handle loss and grief. They made us tell stories about my father, about his life and his death.
This meal was a very special one for both my mom and I. God was with us and showed us how we were not alone, how we were part of a community and how grief really does diminish when it is shared.
Even when writing this now, I feel emotional. Amidst our sadness because of the departure of loved ones (some for good, some temporarily), we were shown that there were still people around us who cared, who were there for us. They gave their love, time and food to us when we needed them most.
This is exactly what the ELCG is about.
For Reflection and Discussion
1. Where have you experienced a community carrying you through a difficult time?
2. What are you grateful for in our church? How will you act on that gratitude in the coming year?