The preaching of the Gospel and the service of men’s need are equally authentic and essential parts of the church’s responsibility. But neither is a substitute for the other. No amount of service, however expert and however generous, is a substitute for the explicit testimony to Jesus Christ. No human deed can of itself take the place of the one deed by which the world is redeemed and to which we must direct men’s eyes. There is no equivalent to the Name of Jesus. But equally, the preaching of that Name will be empty, if he who speaks it is not willing to deal honestly and realistically with the issues that his hearers have to face. An escapist preaching which refuses this involvement is no true witness to the Kingdom. We are not to be reporters only, but also signs of the Resurrection, and that means that we are living out in our flesh the experience of victory over the powers of evil… The true relation between the word and the deed is that both must be visibly rooted in the same reality; namely in that new community which is created and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but mealtime was never dull growing up.
Well, that’s mostly accurate.
Now, truth be told, I had all sorts of experiences around the family meal table. Of course there were the requisite good days and bad days, good moods and bad moods, good food and (sorry Mom) not so good food.
But between my sister and I, there was always someone saying something.
And it was around the family mealtime that I learned several things. I learned proper manners for how to eat food; I learned to serve others before being served. I learned to defer to others when they were talking. I learned by expectation how to pattern my day.
The dinnertime was always the same. We ate at the same time, sitting at the same place, with generally the same people, whether we wanted to or not. That was it. We were a family.
I look back on those days and realize all around me that there is immense pressure to keep up the practice of a family meal. Just the other night my wife and I were talking and she asked me my opinion as to whether or not childhood obesity constituted as child abuse. Certainly if the child is young enough, whatever they are eating, however they are (or are not) being physically active is no doubt a reflection of what they see from the parents.
It is the parents responsibility to set the tone in the house for food and how it is to be treated.
I got to thinking about the obesity part. It made me thankful that meals were always set before us in a reasonable and healthy way growing up. I knew when dinner would be, and I knew where it would be. And I knew who I would be eating with.
And I felt satisfied.
It’s interesting the way we approach the Lord’s table, though. We don’t view it necessarily as a family meal. We view it as a private and personal time to be meditative and reflective and connect with Jesus. And to be sure that although those components of meditation and reflection are there, there must be something else going on as well. It is, after all, the Eucharist. It is the meal of grace and thanksgiving.
In John Collins’ piece “The Eucharist as Christian Sacrifice: How Patristic Authors Can Help Us Read the Bible” in the Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004), he writes:
“If we follow this point through, we find guidance concerning the proper tone for celebrating the Eucharist: it is to be primarily a joyful occasion. There is, to be sure, a place for penitence and sorrow in it, since it is human sin that requires the blood to be shed; but this is only the preliminary, and not the focus. The proper focus, according to passages like Deut 12:7 and 14:26, is to eat before the Lord, and there to rejoice with others—and this should set the tone in the Christian celebration.”
How do we teach this to our congregations today? I think it starts by re-envisioning the meal as a family feast. We aren’t staring at our laps like a small child, playing with our silverware and our napkins, just trying to eat our food and be excused from the table. It is a meal of thanksgiving, where we are eating in the presence of the Lord and rejoicing with the others that are nearby. And in so, acting a bit like the family God is making us to be.
Next, we must always remember that the house of worship that we come to is not a lecture hall. It is not a place where we fill our heads with ideas. No, the meetinghouse of God’s people is a banquet hall, and Jesus himself meets us in the feast to feed us with every spiritual blessing that is ours in him. Just as we pull out all the stops for our family around celebrations such as holidays or birthdays, so Jesus pulls out all the stops when we gather as his people around his table. We are given food that is the “richest of fare”, and even then reminded it is only a foretaste of the grand banquet that is to come.
Are you ready? Are you ready to “taste and see that the Lord is good?” Come to the table, and proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Come to bear witness and proclaim a gospel that is big enough, wide enough, deep enough, and strong enough to withstand all that hell could throw at it, and emerge conquering and victorious. Come and take your place at the family table. The food is still hot, and your seat is waiting for you.
“In fact, one criterion to apply to worship in any congregation, regardless of the liturgical style it embraces, is that of historical remembrance and proclamation: Does worship proclaim the whole sweep of divine activity past, present, and future? Does worship induct participants into a cosmology in which God is at work faithfully in continuity with past divine action? Does worship convey a sense of hope for the future grounded in God’s faithful action in the past?”
When consumeristic people come to worship to only glean what will do them well for the following week, they have little patience for how God has been faithful in other people’s lives. They are, instead, looking for the understandable morsel or two as to how their lives will be made all the better, provided that they are treated well, worship is intelligible, and they get out in a timely manner.
But in all seriousness, we seem to miss the interlocking of God’s redemptive work in history and faithfulness in the present day, because we focus on one or the other to exclusion.
“For comfortable North American worshipers and worship leaders today, the great temptation is to slip into expressions of petition, thanksgiving, and proclamation that are nearly exclusively focused on the present moment. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of lives and churches that are content with the status quo. Our songs, prayers, and sermons emphasize God’s immediate goodness and even the vitality of our intimate experience of God. For us to live into the riches of fully biblical worship, our prayer, praise, and proclamation should be carried out as if we stand before a cosmic time line of God’s actions, fully aware of divine faithfulness from the creation of the world to its full recreation in Christ. It is this vast and specific awareness that grounds our hope when days are difficult and that leads us beyond the immediate concerns of our little egocentric worlds.”
The burden is on us, as pastors and leaders, to look to the task of spiritual formation that intersects our people in the workaday of their lives Monday through Saturday, and to pray that God would do a work. We need our hearts changed first, and then theirs as well, so that we do not come merely to consume and discard, but to contribute and display the work of God to all who may see.
Blockquotes from “Former Prophets and the Practice of Christian Worship,” Calvin Theological Journal 37 (2002)
- People Retention vs. People Formation (davidfridenhour.com)
- Regarding the notion “We better find out what they think.” (davidfridenhour.com)