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The Significance of Sandwiches

While eating at a church social, George, with a gleam of joy in his eyes and pleasure in his voice, said that he loved sandwiches above all other entrees.  Although I did not and do not agree with my brother in Christ concerning the gustatory delights of sandwiches, last weekend I experienced the spiritual and symbolic value of the humble sandwich.

Let me start in the middle of the sandwich.  For her birthday I took my wife to the Row House Restaurant in Topeka.  It was an evening of sheer delight in the company of the woman I love.  The weather was perfect, sunny and yet cool with little or no wind.

The Row House is the incarnation of the artistic vision of its owner and creator Greg Fox.  Architecturally, it is the refurbishing of a 19th-century residence which was on the point of ruin.  The attractive cream-colored stone façade with its windows framed in black and stairs with iron railing invites one into a narrow entrance hallway to a restaurant with seven dining rooms, each with its own character and lovingly restored to their original design.  Mary and I were in the smallest, which was a pumpkin-colored room for two with white frames on the entrance and pictures of kitchen items.  The rectangular window, whose length was set on the vertical, looked out onto the street in which we viewed students on their prom night having their pictures taken in front of the restaurant.

The visual delight of the building opened up our palettes for the culinary pleasures to follow.  The Row House does not have an extensive menu.  Rather it offers three main entrees along with an appetizer, a salad, soup and dessert in which the simple fare of Kansas is creatively transfigured into a royal feast.  We opted for the dinner in which we were served small portions of all three entrees.  Each was elegantly presented so that the pleasures of the palette were combined with those of the eye.

The beauty of the evening was completed by the human element.  There were no televisions or loud music against which the voice of man had to fight.  Instead there was the sound of conversation and laughter.  From our hostess who seated us to Jessie, our waiter, we were served with a gracious manner and an obvious pride and joy in what they were doing. The personality of the staff reflected that of the owner and chef, who took us on a brief but unhurried tour of the restaurant in which he lovingly explained to us each of the rooms.  As we walked out, we ended up in a conversation with two couples who were about to enter the restaurant, veterans of its pleasures.  Thus ended the center of the sandwich, except for the pleasure of its recall in memory.

Surrounding the experience of the Row House were two somber and joyful church celebrations.  Our evening at the restaurant was immediately preceded by a memorial service at our church for Phil Taylor.  Shining through the shed tears were joy and thanksgiving to God for a life well spent in the light of the sure hope of the resurrection.  Phil seemed to be one especially gifted by God to influence people for the good while remaining blissfully unaware that he was doing so.  Perhaps the most poignant testimonial was the weeping of one of his coworkers who could only say, “I worked with Phil,” before she broke into tears.  We were treated to a life whose death was only another step into the greater life of eternity.

The next day was Sunday, and we celebrated Communion together.  If the memorial service for Phil was a celebration of gratitude for a life remembered, Communion is the celebration of gratitude for the death of Christ, a death which brings eternal life.

Did the reminder of death and the fleeting nature of life cancel out the delight of the earthly and temporal pleasures so richly experienced at Row House?  Not at all.  This brief earthly life sandwiched between eternity often is a vale of tears, but that is not all that it is.  The experience of faith in Jesus, who is the bread of life, undergirds and shapes this life, but not just as a theological basis for its meaning and purpose.  Like the good bread of a sandwich it enhances the pleasures of this life.  We experience even more joy and pleasure in this world because we receive it with gratitude from God and as a foretaste of the eternal banquet that we shall spend in the company of Jesus and all his followers.

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