Every Sabbath morning at the start of worship, my pastor invites us to the meeting. He makes it clear that our presence for fellowship and worship and praise is the intersection where we, the gathered, meet with one another, God the Father, and Jesus the risen Christ in the counsel and care of the Holy Spirit. As a result, I have come to embrace the notion that the congregation of believers- those who congregate for an encounter with God and for his glory- does, truly comprise a meeting.
Likewise, I think the earliest believers, despite all their ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, viewed their shared meals together as a meeting, (i.e., as worship) and I like to imagine that they looked forward to these regular meals with great anticipation and joy. This is why I also think of their gatherings as meal-meetings, or what I also like to call fellowship meals, because I also believe the common shared meals and the meetings of the early Church were inextricably connected, not necessarily to the extent of actually being Greco-Roman meal-symposiums, but of at least having evolved out of that prototype.
Of course our worship today, particularly on the Sabbath, is much different, crafted around centuries-old liturgies, creeds and doctrines, not to mention overt cultural-sensitivity to people’s lack of time for multiple meetings in a week. Thus, compared to those first Christians, our worship is much more formal, and our meeting together for shared meals far, far less common. And, it is this general loss of the shared meal- in families and church families alike- that I believe is something to lament because the places at our dining tables are so consistently and symbolically empty.
Our tables are empty because we no longer view a shared meal as a fundamental way to also share the gospel, and because we are unwilling to share our lives in such intimate, selfless, and demanding ways as hosts, who take, thank, break, and give bread to others. But most of all, we should grieve because we are so distracted, and always, always in such a hurry to be doing something else. As I wrote at the start of this chapter, regularly breaking and eating bread together is a practice meant to make us think of Jesus, to recognize his presence at our meal fellowship, and to remember his incomprehensibly great love for us. Our determined failure to practice shared meals on a regular basis should make us stop and think about why we no longer eat together and what we’ve lost in the process.
~ Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.
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