Christianity is practised, and practiced, around the table.
The table is one of our central metaphors for everything we do, and its around the table that we learn how to be disciples. We need more tables. We need more time around the table.
Jesus ate with people all the time, they said of him that the Son of Man came ‘eating and drinking’ (Matthew 11; Luke 7). The early church met in the context of eating a meal together in someone’s home. We can see this in the directions Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 11 for ordering this meal correctly. The sacramental eating of bread and wine seems to have been done in the context of a meal. In my experience, this is always when its most profound anyway.
While I wouldn’t advocate for solely returning to house churches around the table, there’s a reason that we plant churches this way. When the church grows beyond a single table for the Sunday gathering and perhaps hires premises on a Sunday the gathering around tables is supposed to continue in the homes of the church’s members. We can piously call it ‘fellowship’ if we must (let’s not and say we did) but the basic act is cook some food, sit around a table, maybe open a bottle of wine, talk, look other in the eye, laugh, cry, pray and hope. Above all, do it all together.
Our Sunday meetings should make much of Jesus’ table, of taking the body and blood of Christ together. In my low-church evangelical charismatic context that isn’t all that common, most of our people don’t feel that the Lord’s Supper is the high point of the Sunday gathering. It can even be a bit awkward. We’re doing things slowly to address that, but I am convinced that the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine from a shared loaf and cup is the core of what we do. It’s the gospel that you can eat and drink. It’s the gospel, enacted. It can’t be done without other people. It requires forgiveness and repentance to take hold of. It is the centre of what we’re about.
The Table is a metaphor of the gospel. One of the great patterns of the scriptures is that altars of sacrifice in the Old Testament are turned into tables of gift in the New. Once we were people who fought to make ourselves right with God; now we are people who know that we are invited, have been set right, and are given a seat at the table.
Christians are meant to be a hospitable people—notice how all Christian leaders are required to be hospitable (1 Tim 3)? Our homes are meant to be open. Church isn’t a thing you do for a few hours on a Sunday, its who we are together. Our day of rest should involve opening our homes to others within the church. Around the table we will all, hosted and host, learn how to extend radically ordinary hospitality to the rest of the world.
How often in the week do we have others from the church around our table, or do we sit at another in the church’s table? Do we have people back for food after or before church as part of our ordinary sabbath rest? If we don’t, we’re really missing out. It sounds like tremendously hard work because we don’t order our lives as though this were a primary good.
Often, challenges to our lack of hospitality point to those on the edges of our churches: the lonely, the misfit, the difficult-to-know, the poor, the stranger, the outsider. They are right. I’m convinced that for most of us that sounds so hard that we plug up our ears as quickly as possible. We need to renormalise hospitality. I am not writing from a place of strength, but from a place of conviction: I need to learn this. When our tables are full, we must then hear the criticism and extend open seats and warm welcomes to all and sundry. Honestly our community is so thin that we need to start with what we have.
You may well roll your eyes at the timing of this writing. At the time of writing and the time of posting it is against the law to have people around my table. However justified, we need to reckon that this is barbaric. More importantly though, this is precisely the time to be thinking about your table, now is the time to be making forming convictions that will flow into actions when we’re released from our captivity this summer. Don’t drift back into your old habits, find Jesus’ priorities.
It’s around a table that we start to learn how to be a Christian, it’s why a midweek group is always most natural around a table. We’re more open at the table, we’re able to share our struggles and pray for each other, we find opening the Bible easier, we can forgive and repent more freely. Why is that? Is it something about tables themselves?
I did used to work with someone who advocated for round tables in educational settings because they tapped into primal memories for camp fires—even though I think she was wrong, they worked well for group work as you can look everyone in the eye. I doubt it’s the table, especially as New Testament and Old Testament hospitality practices looked little like the sorts of dining chairs you would find in my dining room. We could all get a chaise lounge and ‘recline at table’ like Jesus would have, but we’d just get indigestion and I’d spill my food down my front.
I think—to state the mostly obvious—its eating together. To share bread makes bonds. The ancient world’s laws of inviolable hospitality exist in part because to make a bond by eating and drinking together and then violently violate it was so obviously taboo it turned the collective stomach.
When I want to have a deep conversation with a younger guy, we have lunch, or we have them over for dinner. Not only does food cover all sorts of awkwardness, it binds us. And, every single time, in my home or theirs is going to be better.
To be invited, to be included, to have a table set for you: the gospel has already been acted out before the hard words start to fall. When you know you’re loved because you can taste it, then you can begin to be open, to say the hard things, and to believe the impossible: that God in Christ has laid a table for you. There’s a seat waiting. Sit, rest your weary feet, drink the wine. It’s the good stuff.