Once again Christmas is upon us. Hopefully the hustle, bustle and chaos of last minute Christmas shopping has calmed down so that you can actually relax and enjoy your holiday. Inevitably, the next few days will be spent traveling, visiting family, exchanging gifts and eating (if you’re from the south, lots of eating).
However, no matter where you are from, I’d like to suggest that eating may be the most important thing you do during this holiday season. When we gather around the table this Christmas, it is a snapshot of what God’s people have been doing for centuries.
We eat together.
At the beginning of our story, God plants a garden full of fruit bearing trees and invites us to come and eat. When God comes to Abraham and Sarah as three visitors, they all sit down and have a meal together. In the book of Acts, which records the earliest days of the church, we read that the sisters and brothers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” [2:42]. One of the main images Jesus uses for heaven is a wedding banquet – a huge dinner party – where all God’s people kick back and enjoy a feast.
Eating together, it seems, is what we are made for.
It’s no accident that the Lord’s Supper – or Eucharist – has been the centerpiece of Christian worship from the church’s earliest days. To remind us of what God’s love looks like in the world, Jesus gave us a meal – the bread to be his body and wine as his life-blood, poured out for friends and enemies alike.
Throughout the past two thousand years of church history, this meal has scandalized the status quo, bringing Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave-owners, citizens and undocumented neighbors together at the same table. This revolutionary meal inspired black and white people across the American South to sit down at segregated lunch counters in 1960, insisting that they should be served together because they were equal in the eyes of the Lord. The white citizens who spat in their faces and put cigarettes out on their heads knew something, too.
It’s no small thing for people to eat together.
If we want to understand what it means to join God’s movement in the world today, there is no better place to begin than by asking why God’s people eat together. It is, after all, a peculiar commitment in a time when even nuclear families rarely sit down to a common meal. As participants in a consumer culture, we bounce between ads that appeal to our personal appetites and diets that promise a healthier version of “me” if I stick to an individualized eating plan.
We are used to grabbing fast food when we’re in a hurry, fine foods when we can afford them, lite foods when we want to be healthy, and cheap foods when we’re broke. But whatever our preference, food choices are almost always about “me,” not “we.” Our culture has taught us to eat as individual consumers, not members of a body.
But when God’s people eat together we connect with the very foundation of our story. We remember who we were made to be. As creatures in communion, we learn the habits that make it possible to know what it means to say Jesus Christ is Lord.
One of the creation accounts in Genesis culminates in a quotation with peculiar grammar: “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness…so God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” [1:26-27].
The odd wording of this passage fascinated early Christian teachers, prompting them to explore what it means for the one true God to speak to God’s selves in the first person plural while being referred to in the third person singular, all within two verses of Holy Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity emerged from close attention to this text and others, giving the church language to express a deep mystery – namely that God is always both three persons and one essence. What is more, humanity is created in the image of this God.Our unity, however basic it may be to our very essence, is always present to us in the plurality of community.
For Christians, the Christmas message is that Jesus, “the image of the invisible God,” took on flesh and lived among us so that we could see, in the language of John’s gospel, the logos live out in real life. We cannot comprehend the Trinity in whose image we are made. But we know Trinity looks like love because we have seen Jesus’ way of living in the world. We know it because we have received the bread of life and passed it to our neighbor, “The body of Christ broken for you.” We begin to know what it means that God loves us when we are captivated by the love of communion that draws us ever further into community.
You may not see it all the time, but this Christmas, as you’re gathered around a common table with family and friends there may come a point, when you’re passing the asparagus, the chicken, the rolls, or the dessert while laughing at a bad joke. You look up from your plate and you see the image of God.
And you know this is why we eat together.