Most of us love to get an invitation like that – “Come and eat!”
We get together with others (family, friends, and strangers) around eating a great deal of the time. It doesn’t need to be fancy for us to be drawn to interaction over coffee, a burger, picnic, or a full meal. And few homemakers would deny the enjoyment we have when someone else makes the invitation and we are not doing the cooking, or at least not most of it.
Now it is more common to meet at a restaurant when we do that than once was the case, and it is still fun to do but there is little argument that sitting around a table in someone’s home opens conversation to levels that are somehow unlike a public setting. Our busy lives don’t always make that as easy and yet I have fond memories around a table in the home I grew up in as well as our own. So many stories get shared.
It was not unusual for us to invite a couple or family to dinner at our home when we wanted to get to know them better. Coming to our home conveys a desire for fellowship and getting better acquainted. You get to know someone better by seeing their home and the things they have that show a bit of their lives whether those are pictures on the tables or walls or some other thing that makes that home unique. And invariably when we have done that we end up sitting at the table talking long after we have finished dinner despite having more comfortable chairs elsewhere in the house. About then my husband will remind us all that we do have chairs that are more comfier in our family room.
One of the bonuses of time around the table is how it can transcend generations, so you gain that experience of what life was like in different seasons or places. Our family still recalls asking my dad questions and the stories we heard at times around the table were ones we never seemed to hear any other place we gathered. It also makes a great place for children to learn how to interact, ask and answer good questions and feel included in the whole of the group. It’s one thing to teach them about that but quite another to have the live experience of what it is like.
When our children were young, and we had friends of similar ages most of our interactions as families took place gathering at each other’s homes around a meal. We couldn’t afford restaurants back then and sometimes babysitters weren’t in the budget either.
“Meals, in all cultures, seem to have this capability of stretching from the ordinary to the extraordinary and interpenetrating them. The three meals of our ordinary days are routine. But when we want to celebrate a great occasion, wedding or birthday or anniversary, we do not find it unnatural to use the meal as the means of expressing intensity, ecstasy, and consummation.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
But there is more…
Consider how often we see Jesus interacting around food, a meal, or a celebration such as those mentioned in the quote. His first recorded miracle was at a wedding and He invited himself to dinner at the house of Zaccheus, to share the message of salvation. The last meeting on earth with his disciples happened on a beach on the Sea of Galilee.
“Jesus was fond of using common settings of meals, dinners, and wedding suppers both for telling stories and engaging in conversation.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
Little wonder that so often gatherings of believers so often do that as well and have done so from the very beginning. It was hospitality but far more than that when a meal was shared together.
And then there was that last night before the crucifixion in the upper room where He shared a meal and washed the feet of his disciples. As He broke the bread and poured the cup, He told them to continue this in remembrance of Him. Here we are many centuries later following that command of sharing the cup and the bread in communion over a eucharistic meal.
“Considering the overall faithlessness and forgetfulness characterizing Christians through the centuries – the general squalor of our conduct, our propensity for heresy – one of the truly incredible exceptions is the persistence with which this meal has been eaten. There is no single element of continuing obedience that is more impressive than this. Through the centuries, cultural accommodations to the radicalness of the gospel are made here in one direction, there in another. The worship of Christians has found architectural expression in all sizes and shapes of buildings. All through these differences and changes and conflicts the meal has been eaten: the same words always spoken, the same elements of bread and wine always consumed. There have been, it is true, arguments about what the words meant, what the elements are – but the arguments have never interrupted the obedience.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
How like Jesus to use the common things of daily life to illustrate the uncommon gift of salvation so that everyone could understand his broken body and poured out blood for all who would believe. This practice says so much more than we sometimes take into consideration as we participate in it. We hear the priest, or the pastor and we enter the tradition of our faith community and yet miss so much about this. It was not until reading Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder that I even considered or recognized this was the one lasting command that has survived all our foibles and sloppy response to the greatest gift and sacrifice we could ever receive since Jesus spoke the command in the upper room.
“The meal makes it impossible to keep salvation as a private preserve between God and us in the interior depths of one’s soul. The snobbish cultivation of devout feelings of salvation that withdraws from mingling with unsavory people and trafficking with everyday things comes to grief at the eucharistic table. It is impossible to preserve a devoutly pure subjectivity when you have to deal with spilled wine and bread crumbs. Nor does the meal make it easy to experience salvation primarily as the cozy manipulation of spiritual feelings in carefully arranged settings with people we like a lot, insulated from the grosser aspects of the world. The eucharistic meal will not accommodate these reductions: the people at the table are those the Lord invites, not the ones we like; the elements on the table are material bread and wine, not spiritual thoughts and devout feelings. At the meal we listen to the unvarnished words of Jesus; at the meal we eat and drink under the straightforward command of Jesus.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
And so it should not surprise us that when we come to the end of the book, the Bible, we as believers are invited to another meal – the marriage supper of the Lamb. That is one invitation I have already sent an RSVP to and I can hardly wait to see what Jesus has planned.
I hope you’ll be there too.