Meals more about who is at the table rather than food

Millions of people around the world celebrated Easter in a myriad of ways. In Cancun, Mexico, actors re-enacted the crucifixion on the beach. In Jerusalem during the Good Friday procession, worshippers carried crosses through the Old City.

In Europe, many countries light giant bonfires on hilltops and in churchyards on Easter Eve.

My family celebrated at church and then gathered together on the farm with about 10 aunts and uncles (including in-laws), 20 of my 35 first cousins and more than 30 second-cousins. We ate from a pitch-in smorgasbord of fried chicken, baked turkey, green beans and ham, chicken and noodles and too many pies, cakes and cookies to be named.

I wondered what my friends in India were eating. Maybe curried chicken with those magically delicious spices of turmeric, coriander or caraway seeds — that are perfectly blended by a culinary artist, but I still perceive as an insurmountable chemistry lab formula if I try it myself.

On every table there is naan bread, which I would rate second place, only after my mom’s cinnamon/raisin coffee cake that you start with potato water. And desserts such as Gulab Jamun, milk balls in sugar syrup, that I can only describe as a light sponge cake ball saturated with juicy sweetness.

Come to think of it, the India culture and my big ‘ole Hommel family are actually quite similar. At the farm, you could hear aunts and uncles saying:

“Did you get something to eat?”

“Here, let me serve you.”

“There’s plenty more …”

“Here’s a plate.”

“There’s food on the stove too.”

And my favorite line to my brother’s young children: “If I was your Dad, I’d let you have six cookies.”

In India, whether we were eating in a city restaurant or by our consummate host George, whenever we finished a last morsel of any food, the hosts were ready with another spoonful of curried chicken or piece of naan, asking politely: “More, ma’am?”

It is familiar and comforting to know that Jesus ate with his disciples the night before he was crucified. Matthew 26:17-19 tells us: “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

We celebrate Easter because after Jesus was crucified and died, as a payment substitute for our sins, He arose. But I also absolutely love the familial humanity that Luke 24:40-43 includes when Jesus appeared to his disciples after he had died and arisen and showed them his pierced hands and feet, he asked them: “Do you have anything to eat?”

“They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it in their presence.”

If you think about the best meal you’ve ever eaten, it may have less to do with the presence of delectable food and more about who is in your presence.