The Bible and Food, Part 3: Take and Eat
We are willing to be open about our sins with our brothers and sisters, laying our hearts before God, asking for His help to be more like His beloved Son.
We have an opportunity to show our love for God, for Jesus and our brothers and sisters every week at the one table that matters more than all others—the fellowship meal, the Breaking of Bread, the Memorial Service. It is the most wonderful table we can ever sit around. We need to feel safe and secure and confident sitting there.
To feel the love and trust and welcome of everyone to join in this act of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of the one who gave his life for us. He is the bread that came down from heaven, John 6 tells us in a whole chapter explained and illustrated in words about food. If we eat of this bread, we will live forever.
We leave all our pride at the door to eat together as those who know we need forgiveness at this level playing field table. We are willing to be open about our sins with our brothers and sisters, laying our hearts before God, asking for His help to be more like His beloved Son. “Our weekly gathering is fellowship with a community of believers. But it should also be more than that. We must try to break through our pride to have fellowship as a community of sinners; otherwise, we are doomed to eat alone, each concealing our sin from the other.”¹
THE LORD’S SUPPER
We want to eat together and not alone. How might we make this happen in the very best way? The early meals recorded in the New Testament, where the newly formed groups of believers met to remember Jesus, were exactly that— meals. Not a small piece of bread and a sip of wine. They were a provision of food for everyone, regardless of status or position in the world.
Believing slaves and believing masters ate together to thank God for His grace, and then both returned to work. Men and women ate together to share in fellowship with Jesus as his brothers and sisters. Teachers and illiterate farmers ate together to witness that everyone has a gift to bring to the community. When diverse groups eat together, they are more likely to have an equitable and fair relationship after they get up from the table.
We cannot underestimate how new and ground breaking these meals were. We love to throw the word “radical” around, but it genuinely is the right adjective here. These communal meals were a practical measure to make sure everyone had enough to eat and to remind the whole church they were one body in Christ Jesus.
When 3,000 new believers were added to the church in Acts 2, it says,
We want that. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that it isn’t always an easy meal to digest. How do we keep the focus on what is at the heart of the meal rather than on the meal itself? Early believers were asked to make sure they were in the right mindset when they arrived, to see it as special and distinct and of worth and value and not ever to be treated lightly. They were told to be repentant and forgiving and to commit to addressing the sin in their own lives before they came to the meal.
That way the Breaking of Bread meal would be full of joy and thankfulness. The meals at the church in Corinth were clearly going off the rails. Paul says he can hardly believe what he is hearing about their behavior. But he doesn’t tell them to stop holding the meals. He re-tells them the beautiful details of the Lord Jesus’ own supper and says to fear God, follow Jesus’ example, be genuine, be kind, be patient, be holy and treat each other as beloved brothers and sisters. And then these meals would be of worth and value again.
A MEMORIAL MEAL
How can we make this happen? Perhaps we might try, once in a while, to change our traditional formal meeting to an actual meal together. Try the concept just once at your meeting if you’re not already doing it. Instead of sitting in rows, formal and staring at someone’s back, sit around a table.
Perhaps we might try to change our traditional formal meeting to an actual meal together.
Use Sunday morning to read scripture, to pray, to sing songs, to eat a meal together, and as part of that, break a loaf of bread and pass it around and drink wine and pass it around. To see ourselves back in a dining room with Jesus, the first fruit from the dead.
“First fruit” is an agricultural term that speaks of the first sample of a crop. It indicates the nature and quality of the rest of the crop. Exodus 23 describes Jesus in type as the best of the first fruits of the ground, brought into the house of the Lord. He is our beginning, the firstborn from the dead.
And James tells us that the Father of lights will make us a kind of first fruits too (Jas 1:17-18). We want to know that we are all one in Jesus, and we all want to share in that one body. Together ask for help to be obedient to Jesus, to honor him, to love his Father, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Together resolve to be holy in the week ahead, to be kind, to be upright, to be honest, to be thoughtful, to be more reliant on grace.
Perhaps we might find that this corporate act of worship will help us—all pledging our commitment aloud over a meal to work together, to be there for each other, to look after each other and to reach out together. And it might give us the confidence to take the actions of our Sunday and keep them real in our lives as the week rolls out.
Otherwise, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday.”² Right now, we may still be meeting on Zoom or Skype, but it is perfectly possible, even exciting and wonderful, to hold such a meal together, virtually, to eat and drink and talk and worship. Don’t wait until our halls are back in use.
BANQUET FOR THE LOST
We could also perhaps try holding a different kind of dinner, just for the lost and the lonely. We all may have sometimes found ourselves anxious when we’ve lost our way or lost something precious or felt isolated and misunderstood. We don’t need to make judgments about who are the lost. God brings us people.
We can follow Matthew, who gets up from his tax desk and calls up everybody on his WhatsApp list, every crook and scoundrel he’s ever worked with, and invites them home to eat and meet this new person, Jesus. We could find a place next to us at the table for a friend, a colleague, someone who used to come to the meeting but whose life is far from that place and who has no idea how to ever get back.
Use the ecclesial kitchen table as a starting point in what might be a long journey to the table with bread and wine. Let them see welcome and friendship and kindness as the road back.
Often the drift away from the meeting is not that they doubted Jesus loved them, it is the uncertainty that we loved them. We can begin to repair that notion one meal at a time. Don’t be discouraged when these dinners might not work. What happens when we put in so much effort, but no one shows up? What happens when those on the edge of our community who we are appealing to don’t engage and only the faithful regulars sit down to eat? What if someone turns up every time, wolfs down the food, doesn’t even say thanks and shows zero interest in any talk about faith?
Lots of Bible meals are set in fraught times, in failure and rejection. Jesus and the disciples finish the Last Supper and head off to the Mount of Olives, where first off Peter vehemently says he’ll never deny his Lord. Then the disciples can’t keep awake for five minutes. To finish the evening off, the chief priest and the elders of the city come with swords and clubs to seize Jesus under cover of that murky night. Not the best end to a dinner if we don’t see ahead to the resurrection on a clear, bright morning.
We may be entertaining angels unawares, and that should fill us with wonder that we could be serving dinner to someone sent from God. Every failure will be made holy and wonderful by Jesus being at the table with us.
EARNESTLY DESIRE TO EAT THIS PASSOVER
Let’s finish by seeing how Jesus says we will benefit personally as the Lord of life himself welcomes us. From the accounts of that last Passover meal, we see again that Jesus knew the value of eating and drinking around a table. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to go ahead and find a room to hold the Passover meal in, and when they arrived, they went ahead and prepared the meal.
But just think, we are in the world that is the other side of that dinner— we are in the world of the risen Jesus, the world where all things have been accomplished. We have been asked to sit at a meal where everything is prepared by Jesus himself. All is done for us; all is given for us. Grace is overwhelmingly present at this table. His body and blood in bread and wine is already laid out for us. We can bring nothing but our thankfulness.
We sometimes hear it said that we come with sad hearts or burdens to the emblems on the table, but Jesus says no, leave all these fears behind when you sit down at my table. All your worries can be dealt with. Be full of joy and be lifted up so that every time we sit at this table with him, we start afresh, confident and thankful that he has done all this for us. About all the things we cannot do: the forgiving of others, the forgetting of past hurts, the inability to move on, Jesus says I will be with you this coming week to help you. I know what you need.
The text says Jesus gave them the bread; Jesus gave them the wine. He has set the table with the most precious things in existence, his body and blood, and he asks us to see his example and serve and love one another as he loves us. We hear his voice in the room at the table with us, whether it is together in our halls or solitarily in our own homes these past months. He assures us he is alive and that we have life through his death.
He asks us to remember him and use this table to learn to rely more on him for help and guidance and strength and courage. He is with us always. As the Last Supper ends, he tells us to love one another and that this will show the world that we are his disciples.
Let’s respond to the call to show love, to try to be a part of that movement to make everyone welcome that Jesus started so long ago. For some of us these acts don’t come naturally or easily. We are awkward and we stumble and fall. We are thoughtless and watch chances to witness sail right by. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. Make a prayerful plan each morning to be in tune with his generous spirit, his words of kindness and comfort, his acts of grace and mercy poured out in our own lives.
We can practice everyday hospitality because we know we do it for Jesus. We know that the Lord of life is at our table each day. He is indeed that “unseen guest” at every meal. Because he has blessed us with seats in the heavenly places, we want to bring others to sit with him. If we truly believe Jesus’ own words that every deed of kindness you do for the least, then we have such powerful motivation to rise up and act.
1 Crawford, David. Jesus Eats with Sinners, Pepperdine edu, 1995.
2 Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical., 2010.