Reflections on the Family Meal

A meal at the court of Emperor Ferdinand I, 1558.

Image via Wikipedia

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.

I am a pastor, a husband, a father, and a lover of Jesus. I am also an unpredictable blogger, who can go for several years without blogging a thing, and then inexplicably write a book. Perhaps this is one of those times.

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Posted in Scattered Miscellany, Worship Matters
6 comments on “Reflections on the Family Meal
  1. David,

    Well said. Definitely we need to incorporate the celebratory component of the meal. When we read the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew or Luke, we often end up trying to recreate the “mood” of the last supper. Yet for them, Jesus was going to die in several hours. For us, He has died and is risen indeed.

    When one of the church’s in our presbytery hosts the meeting, the communion service always includes a GLASS of wine and however big a chunk of good bread you can get.

    Any thoughts on using a glass of wine? Is this totally unique? Have you heard of this in your studies?

    • Geoff,

      I think that Peter Leithart has some helpful things to think about in this area. Leithart posits that we (as Protestants) spend too much time with a zoom lens that seeks to focus on the individual meaning of the individual elements; as such, the “quantity” becomes less important than the “quality”, that is to say, the presence of the elements and its symbolic importance. Problematically, then, this leads us to lose the big picture. In abandoning a “zoom lens” mentality, Leithart instead commends a mentality of “ritual theory” which asks the church to further examine her rituals and rites on a much broader scope.

      How does this play in to the meal?

      I think that anything that we can do to further communicate to our congregation that this is a “meal” it would be helpful. So often (and again, this idea isn’t unique to me) we come off with the meal being seen as “tomb” (remember Jesus and be sad and grateful) rather than “table” (this is a family meal in the presence of God and those whom he has called his friends, therefore let us remember what Jesus did to get us to the banquet, walk in confidence that we were called to the banquet, and enjoy the feast). I haven’t directly come across the notion of a full glass of wine and good bread, but man it sounds like a fantastic representation of some of the things these thoughts are pointing to.

      Helpful?

  2. Yep, David, I appreciate your thoughts brother! Helpful indeed.

  3. […] Reflections on the Family Meal (davidfridenhour.com) […]

  4. Donna Kicklighter says:

    Have thought about this quite a bit and wonder if communion would not be more accurately/joyfully observed in the same manner of the Love Feast. They used to be observed together by some. J. Wesley experienced a spiritual awakening from observing the Love Feast among the Moravians. I’ve been blessed by the joy and spiritual community of participating in the Love Feast and often wondered why Communion creates a sense of disconnect instead. Need to educate congregations? Need to educate pastors & elders? Need to re-vamp the manner of serving the elements to help worshipers move comfortably past their previous experiences?

    • There certainly are some who would argue that there are strong ties to the agape love feast. I think the stronger tie is in the practice of the early church. The early church treated the meal as a joyful time marked off by robust liturgy, prayer, and great thanksgiving. Without those elements (and a bit of comfort in the theologically fuzzy term “mystery”) there can be much less of a perceived and felt presence of Christ at the table and much more of a “didactic” (this is what it is, this is what it isn’t) time along side of a strongly Zwinglian flavored “memorial” time (let’s just remember what was done long ago).

      I think the need to educate both pastors and congregations is vital. And strong, consistent leadership in administration is part of what will help congregations move past what they think or remember.

      DFR

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