July 23, 2014

The value of eating together

Eating together provides opportunities for bonding and learning from one another. We share information and news and give extra attention to each other. A family meal fosters security, love, and feelings of belonging. We can model Christian character in a more intimate way and expand our horizons as we listen to others share their lives. Family meals are associated with lower rates of destructive behaviors in the children and higher grades in school.

Besides family, eating with business associates aids trust, provides opportunity to practice good manners, and to share oneself, even if it is only small talk while waiting for service. All this connects people and at the end of the meal, they are no longer strangers.

Surely fellowship meals in the church are beneficial in similar ways. The Bible says of the church that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19–21).

As I read this, I think of our move to a new home and a new church home two years ago. Each Sunday, we have brunch with the congregation. I marvel at this as I see all the above values of eating together. We have developed close friendships in a very short time.

Jesus Christ may have considered some of these benefits when He instituted the Lord’s Supper or Communion. As Paul says, when we share together, it is a participation in Christ (which is true fellowship) and a demonstration of our unity . . .

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16–17)

Jesus told the disciples that the practice of communion was to remind them of His sacrifice for them. Paul reminded the church of that purpose: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23–26).

Eating together in this special way symbolizes what Jesus did for us. The bread reminds us of His broken body, the cup is a reminder of His shed blood. Scripture points to the unity Jesus had in mind, but also to the brokenness that made that unity possible. For that reason, I often think of brokenness during the Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ physical body was broken, but now the church is His Body. Are we broken?

The idea of brokenness is not a negative one, such as a church or a person beaten down and ruined. It is more about the brokenness that happens when individual believers have come to the end of self-rule and self-effort and are totally yielded to God. Even as Christ lives in us and is our Lord and Savior, sin is such that our old nature fights to regain control. That tendency must be ‘broken’ and God will use His Word and the circumstances of life to make this happen. However, not all Christians are broken like the bread. Some of us want to be like Christ, but not broken like He was broken.

Paul described some who ate the bread and drank the cup of the Lord “in an unworthy manner” making themselves guilty of sin. They were not ‘broken’ so he told them to examine themselves or watch out for judgment such as becoming weak or ill or even dying. (1 Corinthians 11:27–32)

This points to another blessing of eating together. We become more aware of one another's needs, including the need to yield our lives more fully to God. Because of the relationships being built, we will see and pray about those and other needs. We might even speak a word of caution if someone’s self-rule becomes a continual problem.

This makes meals together a time of building accountability and expressing the loving care of Jesus Christ among those who are members of His Body. We can allow ourselves to be broken for each other just as He allowed Himself to be broken for us.

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