A Meal to Share

By: Josh Waidley

This is the second of three exercises in our Sabbath Blog Series; each blog provides practical ways for you to practice a sabbath in your present season.

We cannot escape food. We need to eat. If we don’t eat we will die. The second thing God told Adam & Eve after the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1:28, to be fruitful and multiply, was how and what they were to eat. God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). How often do we actually stop and think deeply about eating in general, beyond how delicious the wings at San Tung are or whether or not it is worth it to wait 4 hours for brunch at Brenda’s on a Saturday morning?

Our Daily Bread

The very fact we must eat, and eat often, is a reminder that we are not our own sustainers, that we rely on God to provide our daily bread. As the psalmist reflects so beautifully, “You cause grass to grow for the livestock and plants for people to use. You allow them to produce food from the earth—wine to make them glad, olive oil to soothe their skin, and bread to give them strength” (Psalms 104:14-15).

Eating is not just a boring thing we must do daily in order to get the nutrients to live, but an invitation to remember our own mortality and God’s sustaining life. It is an invitation to reflect on God’s love made manifest in something as simple as a cucumber or piece of bread. As Norman Wirzba puts it in his book Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating:

“Whenever people come to the table they demonstrate with the unmistakable evidence of their stomachs that they are not self-sustaining gods. They are finite and mortal creatures dependent on God’s many good gifts: sunlight, photosynthesis, decomposition, soil fertility, water, bees and butterflies, chickens, sheep, cows, gardeners, farmers, cooks, strangers, and friends, etc. Eating reminds us that we participate in a grace-saturated world, a blessed creation worthy of attention, care, and celebration…Real food, the food that is the source of creaturely health and delight, is precious because it is a fundamental means through which God’s nurture and love for the whole creation are expressed.”

The Significance of Eating

When eating is understood in this way, a meal with others takes on deep significance. Instead of simply friends eating together you are friends reveling in the abundant and creative grace of a Creator who decided to make a world where eating was necessary. When we enjoy food, wine, bread, fruits, and vegetables with each other we are enjoying the tangible, delicious gifts of God and together participating in a deeply intimate and relational act with the Triune God whose grace giving and life sustaining nature is manifest in the very food we are sharing together. Sitting down at a table with someone becomes an invitation not just to eat but to share in God’s goodness and love.

Sharing a meal with another can also be a deeply intimate place to know and be deeply known ourselves. There is something significant about sitting down and enjoying food and conversation, sharing life together, and crying or laughing together. It is a deeply relational thing to connect with someone over a meal; at its best a good meal reminds us we were made for deep relationships. This is why Jesus was constantly eating meals with people, from Pharisees to prostitutes, old friends to tax collectors. Jesus understood, as Norman Wirzba describes:

“The path to full or abundant life is not a magical path. It is a practical journey that begins with eating. The gospels frequently show Jesus eating with people because table fellowship is among the most powerful ways we know to extend and share in each other’s lives…Table fellowship makes possible genuine encounters with others.”

Reflection Question & Planning Your Meal:

Think about a meal in your past that was particularly life giving and memorable.

Recall the details of the meal:

  • Who was with you, what did you eat, what did you drink, where were you?
  • What was memorable or life giving about it?
  • Was it the company you were eating with, the transcendent quality of the food, a particular moment that stood out?
  • What were the emotions you experienced during the meal? Was it a deep contentedness, a overwhelming joy, a sense of peace, a thankfulness, etc.?

Now think about the details of your upcoming meal:

  • What would be the most life giving type of meal for you? Is it a meal with your spouse or a small group of friends? Is it a large potluck with many people?
  • Would you want to go enjoy a meal at a favorite restaurant? Or do a progressive dinner at multiple places?
  • Would you want to cook and bake? What would you make?

Before the meal:

Read the following excerpt from Food & Faith by Norman Wirzba:

“To say grace or offer a benediction of thanksgiving over a meal is among the highest and most honest expressions of our humanity. In this act we show that we are committed to taking a humble place within the world among each other and before God, and demonstrate that we do not take our place and sustenance for granted. Here, around the table and before witnesses, we testify to the experience of life as a precious gift to be received and given again. We acknowledge that we do not and cannot live alone but are the beneficiaries of the kindnesses and mysteries of grace upon grace. In grateful speech and action we seek to be worthy of and faithful to gifts of life that exceed our imagining and comprehension.”

Say grace. Remember God’s grace and goodness that He would give us food and sustain our lives and allow us to enjoy what we will be eating.

Read the following toast from Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb:

“To a radically, perpetually unnecessary world; to the restoration of astonishment to the heart and mystery to the mind; to wine, because it is a gift we never expected; to mushroom and artichoke; for they are incredible legacies; to improbable acids and high alcohols, since we would hardly have thought of them ourselves; and to all being, because it is superfluous…We are free: nothing is needful, everything is for joy. Let the bookkeepers struggle with the balance sheets; it is the tippler who sees the untipped Hand. God is eccentric; He has loves, not reasons. Salute!”