14. A Significant Motif

So, we can see that as a custom, the regular, planned, healthy shared meal at home is difficult to accomplish on a consistent basis without someone being intentional about it; the family supper and the church family supper are less common events in these days of compressed and multi-layered schedules.  But, if we consider the shared meal (especially the evening meal) as a practice, in particular a Christian practice, it then has the potential for both common and sacred relationships in the daily lives of believers.  So even though it may often seem like a lost practice, we should at least consider if it is an important practice in need of attention, intention, and restoration; it is time to explore why eating together matters.

People must eat, and every single thing we eat was once a living entity as plant or animal.  So there is always this built-in truth that for us to eat and live, something else must be sacrificed.  It is interesting that Jesus started his ministry not with fortifying food, but a fast.  In Matthew 4 Jesus fasts forty days in the wilderness.  Now, a forty-day fast will leave most humans at death’s door, famished, literally starving.  How fitting that Satan’s first tempting volley is to entice Jesus to eat bread.  While it feels both farcical and predictable that Satan would dare tempt the Bread of Life with earthly bread, we must remember that Satan knew that Jesus was both man and God, and appealed here to Jesus’ human need to eat. But, Jesus responds, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)[1]

There is a significant motif here that must not be missed.  Where do Christians come together, on a regular basis to be nourished, satisfied, and sustained?  It is at the Table.[2]  At this Table, we eat the bread that is Christ’s body, and drink the cup that is his blood.  Someone has died so we might live.  It is a central Christian practice for believers to share this meal, as it confirms and affirms our identity as God’s people living out our faith in a family of believers. In the early Church, Paul puts it this way: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16 NRSV).  Paul emphasizes the shared nature of Communion.  In a way, it is the family meal for the people of God.

In our sacred meals at church, we live out, again through shared practice, the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  Side by side around this sacred Table we are invited in our hunger to partake, in our wounded-ness to be healed, and in our loneliness to be a welcome part of the Body.  As one Body we look inward to Christ the Word, remember who he is, the sacrifice he became, and the grace with which he’s invited us, and we eat together. As we leave this Table, still side-by-side, we are forgiven, fed, and fortified to look outward beyond the Table, our eyes opened to see Christ in one another, and to take his gospel to a hungry, wounded, and lonely world.  Our shared meal at the Table “is specifically an act by which we are enabled to discern the world, to see and respond in a manner that is consistent with the reign of God.  Our vision for the world is renewed and we are oriented with the will and purposes of God…[it is this] Supper [that should] foster a capacity to see and act with courage, integrity, love, and justice in the world…”[3]

In a curious way, this suggests what should also happen at home. We meet around the common family table to be fed, a shared meal for our physical body, as well as sustenance for our social and familial needs to connect, and also, because for Christian families, to share God’s Word, that is, Christ the Bread of Life, is to grow together as a family in intimacy with God.  This is the true ‘tie that binds’ and strengthens us two and three times a day to do God’s work in a hurting world.  So, in daily meals at home and common meals at church we practice all that it means to consume both our daily bread and God’s Word in one another’s company.  In return, we benefit from all the shared meal has to offer-a safe place to BE- to belong, be heard, be nourished, be affirmed, be forgiven, and be taught.

In short, the table and the Table both share the common elements of a Christian practice: we are invited to partake of what only God can provide.  In gratitude we are nourished and formed into more godly people for work in God’s kingdom.  It is beautifully simple.  At least, it should be.

Let’s Eat!  Together!

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, where Moses reminds Israel of the manna God provided to quell their hunger in the desert that they might know that life depends on every word, in particular the Ten Commandments, that comes from God’s mouth.

[2] For the purposes of this book, Table refers to the sacred meal of the Lord’s Supper, while table connotes the place where any common meal is shared.

[3] Smith, G.T., A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, p. 74.

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