It was a night I will remember for a long time, probably until I die. Tracy and I were on vacation visiting friends in Gilbert, AZ (a suburb of Phoenix). It was a gorgeous desert evening. The temperature was just right: not too hot and not too cold. As we began dinner we enjoyed the crimson-drenched clouds at sunset. As dinner continued we watched the bright full moon slowly come out from hiding behind the clouds. The food was incredible. We were at a Burmese restaurant in Scottsdale called Little Rangoon. It is owned by a husband and wife team: she cooks, and he mans the front. The food was served family style. We had lots of little bites from lots of different dishes: duck spring rolls, fermented tea leaf salad, samosas, lamb, duck, mushroom trio stir fry, giant coconut fried prawns, coconut chicken curry, garlic noodles, and lots of rice. Dessert were these wonderfully light semolina cakes that were perfect. Then the owner gave us these wonderful banana fritters on the house. There were eight of us, and the conversation flowed and undulated on all sides of the table. We ate, we talked, we laughed, we shared. At the beginning of the meal, six of the seven had been strangers to me. By the end they friends and family. Nothing brings people together and brings out community like a good meal.
I was reminded of this again this afternoon. A former colleague and I discovered recently (thanks to LinkedIn) that we both live in Chicago. We met this afternoon for lunch. It had to have been three years since we talked to each other, and we spent a delightful lunch catching up. We ate, and we talked. An old friendship was reborn.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people (Acts 2:46).
I think the early church knew what they were doing by making eating together a vital component of their life together. Of course this was nothing new to them. Eating together was a vital component of Jewish and Middle Eastern life (still is). The people who ate with you, ate with your family, became part of your family. While they were a guest, you did anything to defend and protect them from threat. At this time “devout Jewish families following temple worship would share meals together as symbolic of their social and spiritual solidarity” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, p. 73). Eating together to build and maintain community was nothing new.
I like the emphasis on eating together that is coming out of the missional and emerging movements. It used to be if it wasn’t tacked onto a formal church service, then it wasn’t “spiritual.” It was somehow not sacred or holy if it didn’t happen after the Sunday morning or evening service. I think that’s wrong. I think eating together is a sacred and spiritual experience in and of itself. Something happens when a group of people eat together. Defenses come down, chatter turns into conversation, and people start to open up, share, and just be themselves. Strangers become friends. Enemies can sit together, pass the plate, and may be listen to each other for the first time.
Tables of Love