As we saw in the last post, the shared meal with Jesus was where life, belief, and behavior collided head on with the at-hand kingdom of God.
Likewise, meals bookend the biblical post-resurrection account, starting with the risen Christ’s breaking of bread with two disciples along the road to Emmaus, and culminating with the triumphant wedding feast of the Lamb. Acts 2 tells us that the first believing communities were devoted to the shared breaking of bread as they gathered to hear the apostles’ teaching, to worship, and to pray. Without an institutionalized church, early believers met in homes and dining rooms, and shared what they had, including food, in common.
But, times change. People change. Expectations change. Societies change, and their cultural practices do too. A fundamental question to ask, then, in seeking to understand today’s meal practices in the context of those of Jesus and the early church is whether our relative inattention to the shared meal at home, at work, in our neighborhood, and in our church family is even a problem. Perhaps our evolution toward social networking and digital communication is simply a new and different way for people to create those growth-conducive environments for living out a shared faith. In this light, we must address the apparent conflict between our assumptions that “time-expensive” face-to-face interaction has value, as well as the post-modern notion that we can create flourishing, vibrant community through electronic, virtual, time-saving means in which people are not routinely bodily present to one another. We should also note that this suggests that we need to re-think how much we actually value community over and above self, and whether or not we have confused community with communication.
Yes, as time moves forward, change is to be expected, and not all change is bad. Jesus certainly wrought radical, even deviant change on the Roman-occupied Judean world of his day. Yet, God does not change. Jesus came eating and drinking, ushering in a new covenant with an earthly ministry in which shared meals were a common focal point, leaving us with a memorial in this time of his absence which takes the form of a meal, and promising us a great feast upon his return. The unchangeable I AM still, in our day, desires our time, our hearts, our obedience, and our love, both for him and for our neighbors.
I believe that lack of time spent fully and faithfully and regularly in one another’s real (versus virtual) presence is a detriment to our collective means for growth both in our families and as a community of believers, and that a simple focus on the shared meal, both common and sacred, can help a church family and people at home set an anchor in a cultural sea buffeted by time obsession. As a result, this blog attempts to provide practical ways we can encourage regular, shared meals in homes, neighborhoods, and at church functions. Furthermore, it will explore the role and responsibility of the local church to heed the hunger of its neighbors, and to teach and encourage its members to adopt hospitable, just and sustainable food practices. May you find sustenance and hope and encouragement here to spend time with others, lingering together over the God-given blessings of daily bread, and so nourished, that you may be called and sent out to challenge and inspire others to do likewise.
For a timely and thought-provoking treatment of the theology of faithful presence, see James D. Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).