When couples come together under one roof there is always some negotiation and flexibility required to find a way to live into new rituals. Eating meals together, and usually in our culture households gather at supper time, is one of those rituals that each partner in the relationship bring their own experience. When Kim and I were first married each of us had very different experiences of gathering around the supper table. In Kim’s family all four of them were present at the appointed time, all four were involved in the preparation and the serving of the meals and everyone sat around the same time, quietly, with grace to start and then the passing of the various dishes. When everyone was served, and only then, would the eating begin, soon followed by the sharing of how your day had been. Each person would take their turn, speak slowly and deliberately, and share every detail of their day. No one left the table until everyone was finished their meal. It was rare for any guest to be at the table, these gatherings were for the immediate family.
In my family the only common experience with the Footes was the Grace before the meal, “God is grace, God is good, thank you for our food, Amen.” Given the busy schedules all five of us had it was common for the meal to begin with two or three people. My mother cooked all the meals, served all the meals, cleaned up after all the meals. Sometimes we began at the table, but most days the table was jammed full of stuff so we took our plates to the living room, watching TV and made observations about what we were watching, If we shared anything about our day it was only details and you had to speak quickly, if there was a pause another family member would finish your sentence. The same was true if you left food on your plate, if you left it there too long beware! Someone might put it on their own plate. So we all ate quickly, we were all going somewhere else, and we were often wearing a sports uniform ready to be driven to a practice or game.
Two major differences between Kim’s family suppers and the Little meal times were the guests who showed up and the quality of the sharing. There were many guests my family would invite, usually without notice. My mother never knew who was going to show up and she herself would invite people who were lonely and going through difficult times. But I will say that these guests, our wild and chaotic family, did not share the quality of information I heard at Kim’s family table. I never had any idea how the day had gone for any member of my family and we never really did hear from our guests. They felt welcome, they were included and they were not alone. But there was little opportunity to share.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” God gives us bread and gives to us daily. But the meals themselves have symbolism and significance far beyond the actual bread. Food nourishes the body, we cannot live without food. But meals are more than food and no one demonstrated the sacred power of meals more than Jesus. Remember that when Jesus tells the story of his encounter with the Confuser he is offered all of the bread in the world and responds with, “One does not live by bread alone.” Moreover Jesus tells his disciples that when he is physically gone from their presence they can always experience him in a deep way by sharing in the bread and wine. The early church, worshipping in people’s homes, went further, not only did they share in a formal ritual that came to be the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper they also ate together as a community, as a family. Refugees and long-standing members of the community, men and women, widows and families, the sick and the healthy, rich and poor, landowners and slaves, they called themselves sisters and brothers. And when they ate their “daily bread” they gave thanks to God and found in their communal meal the presence of the Saviour.
Whether it is the feeding of the five thousand or Jesus revealed as stranger after his crucifixion and resurrection or his numerous instructions to hosts of a feast, Jesus insists that his presence is felt most deeply when everyone is around the table, not just those we know and those who have done for us. The bread is a gift and thus an instrument of grace. We do not receive the bread because we are good, we receive the bread because of an unconditional love. Our response is thanksgiving and what better way to celebrate than to share in a meal. And what better way to remind ourselves that we are at the table because we are loved than to invite those who would not normally be invited by our success/status drive culture (Luke 14:7-14).
N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop, scholar and prolific author says that meals, celebrations, are often Holy occasions for coming together, that what was broken has now been put back together. “The banquet, the party, is a sign that God is acting at last, to rescue God’s people and wipe away all tears from all eyes.” The presence of those who have their tears wiped away is a sign of God’s healing presence, eating together as a family reinforces the nature of community, of family.
The story of the Prodigal Son is an example of how a broken relationship, having been healed, is cemented with a meal, in this case with a party. “Jesus is offering all this daily bread…which means in this story, Let the party continue…”
William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas reference the way bread opens us up to the deeper realities of our lives, the spiritual dimension of humankind. Luke records, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (Jesus).” “When we want to meet God, we Christians don’t go up to a high mountain, do not rummage around in our psyches, do not hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah in the hope of revelation. We gather and break bread in Jesus’ name.” It is fascinating to me how breaking bread often breaks us open to the presence of God, of that mystery and source of love that bring forth our true selves. Isn’t it amazing how often persons in conflict with one another, in deep disagreement, sitting around a table of abundance and sharing, listening, and being bonded together in a new and unexpected way?
People often ask me how we at Bethany can live out our mission in 2017. Isaiah 43:19 says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” My conviction is that church mission comes from the talents and gifts God has given to the church members. Ministers don’t impose mission, even gifted church consultants can’t do that. What Ministers and consultants can do is listen and observe what gifts God has given to the local church and articulate that back to the congregation and hope that this inspires further and deeper efforts. I have observed that Bethany people like Bethany people. It is a sight to behold. There is bread, there is community and there is deep sharing. As new people come to our community my prayer, my hope, is that we make room for them as you have made room for me. That we will see the newcomer as we might welcome Elijah or Jesus or a Fraser or a MacLean. Let’s have more parties, more gatherings where we come together and get to know each other with broken bread, sharing what is on our broken hearts. As sure I am standing here in this black gown the healing and life-giving Jesus is here when we come together and receive our daily bread.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him (Psalm 34:8). Amen.