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I can still remember vividly that cold September Sunday. My wife and I had just arrived in London, where I was to do some further theological training. We found our way to a local church for corporate worship. Immediately after the service, a kind, elderly couple turned around and introduced themselves. Betrayed by our outrageous American accents, we were obviously from “out of town.” Almost without hesitation, this couple, whom we had met only moments before, invited us to have Sunday lunch at their home. What a glorious afternoon we had in a traditional English home. The meal was delicious, but it was the fellowship we shared as brothers and sisters in Christ that was truly satisfying.

One of the blessings we enjoy as Christians is that wherever we find ourselves in the world, we have a community to which we belong, where genuine relationships with other Christians can be enjoyed. If we neglect table fellowship, we will miss one of the wonderful ways God builds authentic community in the church, and we will sacrifice an opportunity to witness to the reality of the kingdom to the world.

As creatures made in God’s image, we were created for relationships, both with God and with other image bearers. By God’s design, therefore, genuine relationships are the basis for all human flourishing. We learn in the Bible that sharing a meal together is one of the primary ways relationships are established, deepened, and enjoyed both with God and with others. Think of the covenant meal the elders of Israel enjoyed with God on Mount Sinai. Moses records the spellbinding experience in Exodus 24:9–11:

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. . . . And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.

The Old Testament prophets often compared life in the new heavens and earth with the picture of a divine banqueting table (Isa. 25:6; 55:1–2). In the New Testament, we regularly find Jesus reclining “at table” during His earthly ministry, engaging with real people, furthering His kingdom work, fostering true community, demonstrating reconciliation with God, and building genuine fellowship among His disciples (Luke 5:29; 7:36; 11:37; 14:15). Of course, Jesus calls us to gather around His table where we enjoy fellowship with Him and with our brothers and sisters by virtue of the Holy Spirit who indwells us (Luke 22:19–20; 1 Cor. 10:15–17). The early church gathered regularly in homes to “break bread together” as a practical expression of their fellowship in Christ (Acts 2:46). The Apostles exhort us to show hospitality (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Finally, our eternal, joyous, soul-satisfying communion with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ is depicted as the great marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 9:6–10). Eating together is important.

Our communion with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ is depicted as the great marriage supper of the Lamb.

Christians have always enjoyed sharing a meal because of the rich biblical symbolism; because it is a tangible expression of service, love, and unity; and because of the opportunity it affords for true fellowship and genuine community. Practically, sharing a meal nourishes our need to know and be known because it facilitates face-to-face conversation.

In our digitally connected world, we share a tremendous amount of information through texts, e-mails, and tweets; however, because a significant amount of communication is nonverbal, precious little communication actually occurs digitally. Seeing someone’s facial expression, hearing the tone of his voice, and looking into his eyes are all vital elements of real communication. Ideally, sharing a meal would put us face-to-face with real people. But I am sure you have witnessed this scene: people out together at a restaurant, sitting at the same table, interacting not with each other but with their phones. It reminds me of the film WALL-E, in which the remnant of the human race is hurtling through space on a rocket ship. On the ship, everyone has his own digital recliner that hovers above the floor. Each recliner has its own screen that delivers hypnotic doses of information. The result is that people never talk to one another or interact with their environment. Because they never have to walk, their muscles have atrophied, and because they never have to think, they are easily manipulated. The point is clear: technology can become dehumanizing. It is therefore vital that we emphasize the importance of living in personal relationships within the church.

Tragically, in our modern, Western culture, authentic communication and real relationships are in decline. Sadly, nuclear families rarely eat together today; how much less do we invite others to our homes? In a world where we are growing more divided and isolated, one of the tangible, compelling, and attractive distinctives of the church will be our authentic relationships and loving community. Christians will be people who actually talk to one another face-to-face (2 John 12). Sharing a meal will be an “otherworldly” experience to our otherwise fractured, depersonalized, and hyperindividualized world, and therefore a tremendous witness to the reality of Christ’s kingdom. We have to invite our friends and neighbors to come out into the light of unfiltered relationship both with God and with others. Without such relationships, human flourishing is impossible.

I encourage you to extend an invitation today and begin to develop the kind of rich relationships we were designed to enjoy at our tables. Want to come over for dinner?

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From the January 2018 Issue
Jan 2018 Issue