This week Graham continued the preaching series on the book Surprise the World by Michael Frost. Challenging us to look for opportunities to share meals with others. You can listen again to the sermon here:
Eat (the E of B.E.L.L.S.) part 2.
Last week we looked at the table, a place of encounter, as a place of fellowship with one another and with God.
We looked at meals in Jewish tradition and the dominant culture in the time of Jesus. We noted what the meals of the early Christians were like and how they were different to their neighbours.
We also saw how the table was used to represent a place of connection and fellowship with God. Jesus offered to privilege of eating with those who would open the door of their life to him.
So, the table is a place of fellowship, connection, and repentance. Perhaps we can apply that personally.
Now we look at the table of the early Christians as a place speaking of justice, peace and equality.
In many cultures and across centuries the table was a place to display social status and difference in status. In our country, going all the way back to the baronial halls, the high table was the table on a raised platform for those of higher status. We still see this top table tradition at weddings when we see the bride, groom, best man and close family seated in the place of honour.
See the letter of James.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation – since they will pass away like a wildflower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right. 9 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement.
In East Asian tradition knives and forks are not used for eating, they use chopsticks. It was only recently that I learned the meaning and foundation of that practice. All their food is cut before it arrives at the table. This is so no blade or knife be at the table as they can be seen as implements of violence and the table is a place of peace.
Equality and Peace
The table of God, whether the marriage supper of the Lamb, or the table after opening the door of Revelations chapter 3, is a place of mercy and grace. In Hebrew culture, to eat with someone was to be at peace with them.
28 They answered, ‘We saw clearly that the Lord was with you; so we said, “There ought to be a sworn agreement between us”– between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we did not harm you but always treated you well and sent you away peacefully. And now you are blessed by the Lord.’ 30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank.
If a visitor brought unwelcome business it had to be concluded before the meal.
Then food was set before him, but he said, ‘I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.’ ‘Then tell us,’ Laban said.
A covenant of peace meal at a meal was binding.
14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not enquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
A meal could be a place of reconciliation.
53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.’ So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there. 55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.
So, a meal as a place of reconciliation? Is that why Jesus appearing to his disciples after his crucifixion and resurrection had a meal with them? Reconciliation was Peter’s greatest need and if we now see that meal in the light of the facts we have lust noted.
See Luke 24:28-32
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. 29 But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread. 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
1 Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. 6 He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
The emperor Julian had understood that the table of the Christians was a place of hospitality, generosity, inclusiveness, and grace. That would give us a clue to understanding the anger of Paul when he wrote to the believers in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
For Paul, writing is one inspired by the Holy Spirit, the behaviour of the Corinthians was not just bad manners, or a breach of etiquette, it was contrary to grace and a fracture of fellowship.
The table is an equaliser in relationships. The table is a place of peace and reconciliation.
See 1 Corinthians 11:17-29
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
So, a new habit? Whether we do it at table, or generally in our social contacts, we can treat all people as having equal value.
All we have is of grace. The tables reminds us to work at the life of grace.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.