In his book A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester takes us on a journey back in time–to a very important time–when our Savior walked the earth and sat down to enjoy food and fellowship with his creation. We are reminded that food was not simply created for fuel, but rather as an expression of the goodness of God. “Every time we eat, we celebrate again our dependence on God and his faithfulness to his creation. Every time.” (pg.70) Not only does food direct us to the sustainer of life, but food itself is a good gift meant to be celebrated in a way that leads us back to the good God who lavishes it upon his creation: “The point is that food isn’t just fuel. It’s not just a mechanism for sustaining us for ministry. It’s gift, generosity, grace. Jesus gave thanks and broke bread. In so doing, he affirms that food is to be received as a gift from God. Food matters as matter. It’s physical substance, and part of God’s good world. We’re to embrace the world as it is–not merely as a picture of some other spiritual world.” (pg. 67) By taking a close look at the way Jesus himself enjoyed food and took advantage of the meals he was a part of for ministry, we see that this naturaland good activity of eating and extending hospitality is an important part of our lives, not to be separated from other “more spiritual” activities.
Chester’s book not only helps to elevate the importance of meals in general, but also gives a vision for what the gatherings around food can accomplish. He encourages us to reject social boundaries that divide rich from poor, cool from uncool, churched from unchurched and thus extend the grace of God to those who may never experience it apart from a welcoming meal at your humble table. In so doing, we demonstrate the grace of God and provide an opportunity for the communication of the grace of the gospel:
In this culture our shared meals offer a moment of grace. A sign of something different. A pointer to God’s coming world. “Life in the kingdom…demands that we adopt a new set of table manners, and as we observe this etiquette, we become increasingly civilized according to the codes of the city of God.” Around the table we offer friendship and celebrate life. Our meals offer a divine moment, and opportunity for people to be seduced by grace into a better life, a truer life, and a more human existence.
Chester also challenges the body of Christ to take advantage of the natural community which builds around the experience of shared meals as he looks closely at the importance of fellowshipping over dinner tables as well as experiencing the Lord’s supper together regularly.
All in all, I found this book to be incredibly beneficial to my own perception of food, meals, and hospitality. At times however, I felt as though Chester could be reading a little too much into the social customs and context that Jesus found himself in. While I tended to agree with most of his assertions, there were times when I felt his Biblical support wasn’t convincing in and of itself. Though I too believe there is much to be learned from the social and ecclesiastical practices of the early church, we must be careful in how we directly apply them to our modern context. I also found his handling of prophetic texts (pointing to Christ’s future banquet), to be simplistic and somewhat overreaching. I too believe that there will be literal feasting in the new creation, but felt as though at times he used this truth as a catch-all to support his propositions.
I am taking away several lessons from this book that I think apply very well to the Lessons from Our Tables series:
- Like breathing, God created us to eat. Like our dependence on oxygen to survive, we have a very real dependence on food. We all must eat, and therefore we have at least one common interest with every person we come into contact with. Entering into a person’s life (no matter how different you are from that person) can be as simple as inviting them over for a meal, sharing what the Lord has given your family with them and allowing them to experience the grace of our God through us.
- Food is a glorious blessing from the Father. Though we should not be ashamed of a simple dinner if prepared with love, we also should seek to enjoy the gracious gift of food through creativity. The ability to make delicious meals that delight the taste buds isn’t a result of the Food Network, it is handed down to us from the Creator in the same way that the ability to create glorious and delightful harmonies through music is. Culinary excellence isn’t superfluous, it is a gift worth pursuing.
- Our theology impacts how we eat our food. As we seek to view all of life through a Christian worldview, we see that we must receive our food as a blessing from our Creator and Sustainer. We must seek to share the abundance of blessing we have with those around us and look for opportunities to show grace to those who are desperately in need of it. Because we are a part of a kingdom which exalts the lowly and brings to nothing the proud we must guard ourselves from excluding those we think are unworthy of our hospitality or who don’t fit in to our social or church circles. We must view our lives now, within the larger context of eschatological history and in so doing, view food as a reminder of the future grace we will experience for all of eternity with the Christ who has ransomed us.