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Simply Church: Meals

There was a time when eating together was the norm for a family. When I was younger, almost every day my family would sit down at the dinner table and eat supper together.* Mealtime was when everyone stopped whatever they were doing, gathered together, prayed, shared a meal, and talked. Conversations weren’t always pleasant, sometimes they were uncomfortable, sometimes angry, but these mealtimes did much more to unify and solve problems in the family than create them. Meals are the perfect event for a family gathering because everyone in the family has to eat and the meal creates an environment well-suited for the conversation work of the kingdom to take place.

Jesus does a lot of his work over meals. He asks and answers questions when talking with the lawyers. He subverts ceremonial washing practices and gives a lesson about what it really means to be clean. He demonstrates in no uncertain terms the value of the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Through dinners with different crowds Jesus demonstrates the indiscriminate magnanimous love God has for the sinful religious rejects and the sinful religious elite. In making a meal, Jesus does the miraculous that everyone may eat of the food of his teaching with full stomachs. Forgiveness happens at the table. Transformation, redemption, and the rectifying of wrongs happen because of conversations with Jesus at the table. The whole celebration of the Egypt Exodus is reworked and recentered at the last supper.** Jesus does lots of cool things during meals.

The gathering of believers likes to eat together a lot too. In the beginning of Acts, while new believers are entering into the Messianic kingdom by the thousands, the church not only were devoted to learning from the apostles how to live in and bring this kingdom of the risen Messiah, but also to “fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”*** Obviously the teachings were central to the lives of the believers together, but so were the meals. And at these meals, as we see in subsequent chapters, great care was taken to make sure that no one went hungry. No one lets their siblings go without food.

Paul provides an interesting picture in 1 Corinthians 11 of the gathering of the Church in Corinth. He says,

“when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, when you come together as a church… there are divisions among you… When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.”

Paul assumes that when the church gathers together in the name of Messiah Jesus, they are eating together. Not only are they eating together, but by eating with one another in the name of the risen Lord, they are eating the Lord’s Supper. Paul goes on to heavily criticize the church because when they are eating what they presume to be the Lord’s Supper, each is eating their own meal, leaving the poor hungry and the rich drunk. Paul then goes on to explain a lot about what the Lord’s supper means and how to consume it, then says, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat…” Again, the underlying assumption is that eating together in the name of Christ is eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord.

In most church gatherings, we would never have anything approximating this problem while having the Lord’s Supper. There is not a situation where one person would eat to excess while another goes hungry, because no one eats anything substantial. The hungry would be hungry with no one knowing, because when they receive the Lord’s Supper, they only get a tiny piece of bread and a sip of juice. Our celebration of the Lord’s supper provides an equally insignificant amount of food for everyone, which doesn’t seem to be what Paul is imagining.

I have never gathered together with believers and remembered the body broken and blood shed during a meal with them. I have often taken the Lord’s Supper, but it was always a private experience of reflection, prayer, and remembrance of Jesus that occurred in a room full of people with some worship music in the background. Of course these private moments with the Risen One can be beautiful, intimate, and transforming. These moments, however, not what the Lord’s Supper was when Jesus exemplified it and explained it to His disciples, and the earliest followers of Jesus did not practice it like we did.

I don’t think we have to practice it the same way.**** However, we are missing something because we don’t gather together for a meal in the name of Jesus very often. Meals have the potential to be a place where a church functions as the church. In the joy and satisfaction of eating and drinking, much of the kingdom work of conversation can be done. Meals are an activity everyone can do together, uniting one another, making sure the hungry are fed, and are a potential conversation catalyzer.

In my life, because I have not thought about meals with other believers as the gathering of the church in the name of the Lord Jesus, I have replaced meals. I think that our desire to have these intimate moments and engage in the kingdom work of conversation has led to a preponderance of Christians going to coffee shops to gather in the name of Jesus. I don’t think I have ever met a believer in Christ at a coffee shop without talking about what the Risen Lord is doing in their lives. In my life, most of the beautiful moments of God’s power working through his people has happened during one of my conversation catalyzers: coffee shops, bars, and smoking. I believe that places and situations that invite open conversation with believers and allow the exercising of spiritual gifts are central to our lives as a community.

If we do not gather together regularly to share a meal in the name of Jesus, here is the question: What can we do to create space and an environment in our regular gatherings that stimulates transformative conversations with our brothers and sisters?
*Then sports and other commitments happened and the whole eating together thing went to shit. Obviously, football > family.

** Is this term, “last supper,” for the Passover feast with the disciples biblical? Because it doesn’t feel right. It might have been Jesus’ last meal before He was crucified, but is He not with us whenever we gather together in His name and share food?]

*** I haven’t researched this, but based upon imagery in Luke regarding the Lord’s supper as well as the meal where Jesus is revealed after the road to Emmaus, it would seem that the “breaking of bread” imagery is a way of talking about the redefined Passover meal. It certainly is an image indicating eating with others in the presence of the risen Messiah.

**** I do think that eating together is a wonderful way to remember what Jesus did and a kingdom act anticipating the marriage supper of the Lamb when all of God’s children will feast together.

  1. David C. Miller
    February 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    ‘It certainly is an image indicating eating with others in the presence of the risen Messiah.’

    Or, you know, that the body and blood of Jesus Christ is really present in, with, and under the forms of the bread and the wine. As much as I’d like to take my shoe off and start pounding the table, yelling “This IS my body! This IS my body!”, I don’t think that strategy has been very effective in the 483 years since Marburg, so I won’t run it into the ground.

    But, suffice it to say that I don’t think the major difference between the Lord’s Supper as practiced by many American Protestants in 2012 and that practiced by the Apostles in 32 is the amount of bread, juice, or wine consumed, or the music in the background.

  2. February 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Rob Bell: “As Christians, it is our duty to master the art of the long meal.”

  3. February 13, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    I really appreciate your perspective David. When talking about the image language Luke uses, I wasn’t intending to make a point about transubstantiation. I was merely talking about what the use of that language seems to refer to in relation to being about the Lord’s supper and/or the eating together in Jesus’ name. I tried to avoid saying anything about that because it’s not really related to what I was trying to communicate (which I may have communicated poorly). It is an interesting topic very related to church though. If you want to write something on it to be put up on here as a separate blog post, I would love that. I would also love to see you take your shoe off, hit the table, and tell people they are eating your body.

    John – It makes me nervous when Rob and I are in agreement. 😉

  4. February 19, 2012 at 1:43 am

    great reflection..it’s something that we’ve seemed to have lost.


  5. February 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Indeed Robert. Thankfully, I think it’s one thing that we are in the process of recovering.

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