As a young child, I was always excited for holiday gatherings with our extended family. They were usually at my grandparent’s house, not because it was the largest house, but because it was home to everyone. There’s something comforting about the familiar, and even as kids, we knew where we could play and hide.
I remember looking at the plates and decorations that dressed the tables.
My grandparents would set up additional folding tables and try to connect them together so it appeared like one big Mad Hatter meal. Grandma used the best linens and china.
I would run around the house counting how many people we had in the house, and would then run and count how many place settings were on the table, to make sure there was enough for everyone. The numbers didn’t match; there was one extra plate at the table. I waited for my grandmother to announce, “Guess who is coming for dinner?” But, it never happened.
I carefully walked through the crowds into the kitchen, being careful not to get in the way. I gently tugged my grandmother’s apron, which hung from her neck, and asked her why there was an extra plate at the table. Was someone special going to join us? I remember she smiled and pinched my cheeks – I hated when she did that!
“Yes, there is someone special – Jesus!”
She had a tradition of setting an extra plate for him at the table, so we could be reminded that he is always with us. This was fascinating to me, especially because up to that point I had only been taught about his spiritual existence. I sometimes wondered if having this place setting made people act differently, or fight over the seat that was to his left or his right, just to be near him. I also wondered why he was at the adult table, and not with the kids.
From the kid’s table in the corner, I impatiently watched through the adults, but it was too hard to see. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could graduate to the other table, and witness their reaction for myself.
This beautiful tradition is now a part of my family. When I add the extra plate, I ask my children who wants to sit next to him, because I want them to know that Jesus is physically there for them too! Jesus is physically present with all of us, especially when we invite him.