Having wound them down over the summer, yesterday marked the return of our community groups. Later in the year than usual because of our prayer meeting, a quarterly members’ meeting and then I was very rudely away with a bunch of pastors. So, yesterday was our first one back.
Along with it being the first one back, my wife was on cooking duty. It is our practice to cook a meal, eat together as a group and use the time to chat together before moving into our time of prayer and reflecting on Sunday’s sermon. I maintain that the food is a really important part of what we do. Not particularly because people in the room need a meal – most of them don’t really – but because it does something peculiar when we meet together.
First and foremost, it follows the pattern set by Jesus and the Apostles. It has been noted many times that Jesus ‘ate his way through the gospels’. Indeed, Jesus did so much eating and drinking that he got accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He was no such thing. But it is telling that ‘the Son of Man came eating and drinking’. The Apostles seem to do a lot of eating and drinking together too – I assumed because that’s what Jesus taught them to do when they were knocking round with him. Do I think Jesus commands us to do it? Not exactly. But are we following something of Jesus’ example when we do? Yes, I think so.
Second, and I can’t defend this theologically (so take this point for what it is), I think eating and drinking does something to our conversation. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I just know people open up far more easily and readily if there is a plate of food in front of them. Sharing a meal together leads to better conversations. It leads to people speaking more openly. It leads to those things in a way that biscuits or a few snacky bits just doesn’t. Why? I have no idea. But that it almost always does is just an observable reality.
Third, I think it shows better hospitality. Again, I’m not convinced it is the form of hospitality that is the only appropriate way. I take a very broad view of what being hospitable means. But I think there is a level of hospitality that is better and more fulsomely shared when we have a meal together. It’s not the only way to show hospitality, by any means. It’s not necessarily the main way. But there is something about eating with people that is very specifically and clearly hospitable in a way that almost everyone, across almost every culture, seems to recognise. There is a reason that our culture generally considers it rude to turn our nose up at food people have made. There is a similar reason why our culture generally considers it welcoming to invite people over for a meal.
If we want to be a church that offers genuine community, the Bible typically seems to see community built around meals. Sharing meals was something the early church did, eating together day by day. We may not do it all the time, but eating together is more important than many of us recognise. A good theology of food and fellowship might help us to create the kind of community the Bible seems to envisage for the church.