"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Key questions about the breaking of the bread include:
- How do we gather for worship?
- How do we gather around the Lord's table (communion)?
- How do we gather around a table and share a meal?
- How do we eat together?
A premise of this conversation is that what we do as followers of Jesus at the communion table shapes and impacts how we share meals with each other outside of the worship time and space. How we gather at the Lord’s table informs how we gather together at other tables in our lives.
A conversation partner for this round of Theology on Tap is the New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan. I reference his book, written with biblical archeologist Jonathan Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom.
For a discussion of “breaking of the bread,” chapter six of In Search of Paul - Who or What Controls Your Banquet? - is an excellent wealth of information. It combines Paul’s advice/critique of the communion practices at the community of faith in Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 11:17-34) with cultural norms of patronage and banquets/meal sharing.
“Our hypothesis is that especially or maybe even uniquely at Corinth, Paul’s radical horizontal Christian equality clashed forcibly with Roman society’s normal vertical hierarchy (Crossan and Reed, 296).”
It is important to remember that meals at this time, especially the banquets, were very public events. People did not live in individual family unit housing like we do in modernity. Multiple families shared space. What you ate and who you ate with were often visible to others.
To put it as simply as I can, food equals power. If you have food to share, you have power. If you can throw a banquet and feed a large group of people, you have a great deal of power. And you can use that power to increase your influence in the community - you can move upward in society.
The way that Jesus shared meals during his ministry, the rhythm of meal sharing demonstrated to the disciples - particularly at the last supper, clashes with the upward trajectory of meal sharing in Roman society.
Luke 5: 29-32
Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19 Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22 What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. 30 For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.
The powerful, those with food, are not sharing with those without food. The equality championed by Jesus has been forsaken for the status game of society. This angers Paul as we learn from his letter.
As modern-day followers of Jesus, this conversation is important for us to remember. In a society (I write from a north american, middle class, privileged perspective) where there is a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, how we share resources is a key issue of community life.
Sharing food is still a power issue. How we gather around tables and who we gather with (if at all) - as modern-day followers of Jesus - is a marker of how we understand the life and ministry of Jesus.
A Spirit driven community shares meals in a unique way- one that mirrors and models the radical equality and inclusivity of the meal sharing of Jesus. Our time at the communion table shapes and informs our table practices.
Questions to Ponder
- Who or what controls our table?
- Do we connect with we do at the communion table with what we do at other tables where we gather?
- How can we share food and resources in a way that mirrors the graciousness and abundance of the communion table?