Lesson 10: Early Christian Meals

The Lord's Supper by Juan JuanesIn the last lesson, I suggested conversing over fine food and drink might be the best way to promote friendship in our day. In this one, I’d like to support the thought by showing how important this is for Christianity.

Meals played a major role in the Old Testament. There was Abraham and Sarah offering hospitability to three angels and finding themselves sharing a meal with God himself. There was the Exodus Passover Meal that became a major ritual of identification for the Hebrews.

However, conversing over fine food and drink is incredibly central to the New Testament. Just about every other scene in the gospels is set at a dinner. Jesus is accused of being a friend of sinners and tax collectors, because he constantly ate with them. He shares his teaching and food with 5000 friends. He eats with Simon the leper, Zacchaeus, Mary and Martha, Pharisees, and more. Obviously Jesus used conversing over food and drink as a major tool in his ministry.

Of course, the Last Supper whose words and actions are remembered to this day exemplifies this. It takes up a good fourth of John’s Gospel. Words spoken over food becomes the main act of Christian worship.

It’s quite natural then, that the Resurrection stories when Jesus is reunited with his friends, almost always feature him sharing words and food with his disciples. The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) is especially suggestive when conversation with a stranger “enlightens” them so much that their hearts burn within them. And then in the breaking of the bread, their sorrow is turned into joy when stranger is recognized as Jesus. The message is pretty clear. When we speak with strangers and invite them to dinner, we find Jesus among us.

The model for the Church in Acts 2: 41-47 is patterned after these meals shared with the earthly Jesus. This community of friends gathers to pray, to listen to the apostles’ teaching, and to break bread. Furthermore, sharing words and bread leads them to share their possessions with one another. Every Eucharist meal is a Resurrection meal.

We see the same in the Pauline churches. I Corinthians 11: 17—12:11 shows the Communion meal to be a covered dish supper in which the unity of God’s people is to be practiced. All the food and spiritual gifts are to be shared. Around table there is no Greek or Jew, no rich or poor, no slave or free, no male or female.

And finally, almost all the pictures of the Church in the writings of the Church Fathers reflect the same. For instance, Justin the Martyr writes, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. “

Clearly, the community of friends called the Christian Church understands the importance of sharing words over food and drink. This might be why the Church can play a major role in protecting and promoting friendship for our time.

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