We had dinner at our home with some friends – grilled elk, salad, asparagus, and potatoes. Dessert was crème brûlée (which I had to resist, since I am earnestly trying to reduce my dependence on so much gravity). We sat around the table and prayed and talked and shared stories and hopes. We laughed a lot. We crossed into the areas of our respective and collective journeys and we encouraged one another. We were side-by-side and face-to-face. Something about a simple meal together levels all things. If we are willing to let down defenses, a meal can be a place of sweet comfort and love.
God likes meals. Some of the more interesting encounters with God in the Bible take place around the table; they are “meals with God.” Rublev’s Trinity, a theological icon that celebrates the meal served by Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1ff), shows how meticulously Abraham’s attends to his guests’ needs in order that they would know honored hospitality in his home. He dropped everything in order to serve and to make them feel welcomed. At Mount Sinai, Moses, Aaron, and seventy elders looked upon God and ate and drank in God’s presence (Exodus 24:9-11). The Passover was established as a permanent memorial to the day that God led his people out of slavery; a day to celebrate His delivery and presence (Exodus 12:14, 24).
Jewish dietary laws prohibited the Israelites from eating with anyone but those who followed the Law. Without common meals, social discourse with Gentiles was significantly minimized and the table that brings intimacy and understanding was not shared among them. But Jesus changed that. It was at the feeding of 5,000 (John 6:1-14) that Jesus invited the participation of His followers in the distribution of the meal to their brethren, but it was at the feeding of the 4,000 that He extended the assignment to include Gentiles (Mark 8:1ff).
At the table of Simon the Pharisee, Jesus contended with the elitism of a privileged few in light of the repentance of a woman of ill repute (Luke 7:36-42). In contrast, Jesus ate at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, showing that God’s Kingdom was a house with room for even the marginalized and despised (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus ate with friends before being anointed for burial by Mary (John 12:1-8).
He gave the new commandment at the Last Supper (a Passover), where He established the breaking of bread as a remembrance for the New Covenant (John 13:31-35). After the Resurrection, He revealed Himself over a meal at the end of the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:30-32). At Galilee He prepared a meal over a charcoal fire for His disciples where He both restored and commissioned Peter (John 21:9-13).
The Spirit-filled church continued this table tradition as they broke bread together (Acts 2:42, 46). Peter was shown God’s intention of including the Gentiles at the table of Cornelius’ (Acts 10). The Lord’s Supper, well-established throughout the Roman Empire, received correction from Paul as to the way people were abusing it; he commanded that they share it in love (1Corinthians 11:17-34). And finally, Heaven itself features a banquet to rival all banquets; the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation19:9).
Meals are a place of unique communion. Conversation reaches high levels of intimacy. People at the table see one another up close in an atmosphere that engenders trust. Cultural differences can make way for the consideration of new perspectives. Even former enemies, having laid down their weapons, can be at peace at the table.
By our breaking of bread and thanking God we acknowledge His ongoing presence in our lives; He is literally at the table. Hospitality was at one time considered a mark of the Christian home (3John 5-8). Have we, with our busy lives and isolation, lost the spirit of hospitality? Can we “recommission” ourselves as ambassadors and invite others to the table? Will we return to the spirit of Jesus and a renewal of meals with God?
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)