Worship and the Art of the Long Meal by David Dunham

Scripture tells us that Jesus came “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34). This statement is so simple that we can overlook its profundity. In his book A Meal with Jesus author Tim Chester notes that in the New Testament we find the phrase “The Son of Man came…” completed in three specific ways. He came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He came “eating and drinking.” Jesus eats and drinks. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, eats and drinks! In fact, in the New Testament Jesus eats and drinks often, and throughout the Bible eating and drinking are often acts of worship. That means as we eat and drink we too ought to do so in ways that are worshipful. There are lots of ways to turn our eating into worship, but one particular manner of eating has struck me as of late. One of the most worshipful ways to eat is to eat with others.

Brett McCracken wrote so beautifully about this concept in his latest book Gray Matters. I have been “chewing” on it for days since I first read it. In the book he argues that though eating and drinking are one of the most oft neglected aspects of Christian cultural engagement, it should be more carefully reflected upon. That is to say, though we eat and drink all the time we do so without much thought as to how our eating and drinking relates to worshiping God. McCracken writes:

Are we consuming food in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ? That may sound like a silly question, and indeed, for many of us the whole notion of food as a spiritual discipline or missional activity might be a new idea. But if we are talking about being cultured Christians – believers who receive culture well and consume things in a healthy and mature manner – we should not neglect a discussion of food. Food is the ultimate in global pop culture. (26)

Paul, of course, told us precisely how we were to eat and drink: all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). That means we need to find out what it looks like to eat to the glory of God. One such way to eat to the glory of God is to eat with community. I don’t think I had ever thought of that before, but the truth is that some of the best meals I have ever experienced revolve not simply around the food, but around the community with whom I ate.

My wife and I use to host International Dinners at our house. We would invite our closest friends and celebrate different tastes from around the world. I remember fondly the night we ate Persian food. The tastes were amazing. You haven’t had rice until it’s mixed with cardamom and dried fruit! The spices made each course of the meal pop. But the best part of the meal was cramming a dozen people around our tiny kitchen table and delighting in long conversation. Coffee in the living room after supper continued the joy. It was a wonderful evening. Eating like this is a spiritual event.

For all my complaints with Rob Bell – and there are many – I love when he states in Velvet Elvis that “As Christians, it is our duty to master the art of the long meal”. He writes:

What was the ritual the first Christians observed with the most frequency? Exactly. The common meal, also called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. And what did this meal consist of? Hours of talking and sharing and enjoying each other’s presence. Food is the basis of life, it comes from the earth, and the earth is God’s. In a Jewish home in Jesus’s day – and even now – the table is seen as an altar. It’s holy. Time spent around the table with each other is time spent with God.  (p.171)

In a culture where people tend to eat a majority of meals alone in their cars, taking time to eat with community becomes a counter-cultural activity. It becomes an opportunity to worship. Those dear friends that I ate with made that meal more than just dinner. They made it a moment I look back on with great delight and thankfulness. They made that meal a moment to stop and say “God is so good.”

Jesus himself was the master of the long meal. Brett McCracken notes that “Jesus seemed to value the sacredness of dining with others, not just for sustenance but for community and mission” (37). Tim Chester observes that Jesus’s missional strategy revolved around the “long meal, stretching into the evening” (68). It was here that he did evangelism and discipleship. It was here that he revealed who he was and why he had come and what the gospel was all about. Around the table Christ cultivated the church. I’ve observed the same thing in my own life.

Our church in Portsmouth, OH would often find itself at the Port City Pub and Café. It was here that we discipled one another over delicious bowls of potato cheese soup. It was here that we shared the gospel with waitresses, seeing some join our church fellowship in the long run. It was here that we celebrated the marriage of one of our elders. Discipleship and thanksgiving often happened as we met together to eat.

This happened in homes too. I have three friends with whom I have shared more cups of coffee than I can possibly recount. And with each cup of coffee there were long conversations about the glory of God, the goodness of God in difficulty, the need of the Holy Spirit to help us each change. I have benefited as much from those cups of coffee as I have from any seminary class. All these meals provide occasions of great worship. They compel worship even now as I look back.

Good eating often creates memories. When I think about the best steak I ever had I go back to a wonderful anniversary my wife and I spent at a resort on the borders of a beautiful Amish village. We walked the country side, enjoyed a luxurious cabin, and ate a wonderful meal. That steak, marinated in a delicious port wine sauce was so succulent it melted in my mouth. Flavors poured forth from every bite. But the joy of that meal was bound up in the beautiful conversation my wife and I had about our hopes and dreams. We recounted the delights of our first several years of marriage, and of the plans we had for the future. All of it combines now in my mind to create a beautiful memory. When I think back to that delicious steak I thank God for that moment in time, that break from stress and frustration and that step into joy.

Brett McCracken notes that eating is often joined to memory. He writes:

For Christians, consuming food should have aspects of the vertical (worship) and the horizontal (community), but I would argue that there is another dynamic at play here too: a “backward and forward” continuum in which memory of the past and longing for the future collide in the sacred, tasty moment of present feasting.

We remember eating, and in eating, we remember. Perhaps God made smell and taste so saturated with memory because he wanted us to always be remembering and reflecting upon the gift that is food. In the moment I taste a spoonful of flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts and sea salt caramel, I worship God for his goodness. Years later I can still remember that taste, and I thank God again. Memory plays a big role in our enjoyment of eating, and it’s one of the reasons why a meal – the Lord’s Supper – is one of our most important rituals of reflection and thanksgiving. (45)

In eating we are remembering and we are worshipping. And even this remembering is tied to community. We are remembering the people we ate with. We are remembering the God who gave us these things. We are remembering the Christ who died and memorialized that death in a meal. We are eating that very meal together in our corporate worship. Eating, community, and worship belong together.

I long for good meals. I don’t look like it, but I am an eater. I love food. Lamb stuffed with apples and cherries! Mushrooms smothered in a creamy sauce with crab meat. A fresh cup of earthy coffee made from recently roasted Indonesian coffee beans! These conjure up all sorts of memories and propel me to worship the God who didn’t simply create food but encourages us to eat it with others. Embrace the art of the long meal, friends, and worship God as you eat with His people.

Dave Dunham is associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, MI. He is a graduate of Ohio University (BA) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).

3 Responses to “Worship and the Art of the Long Meal by David Dunham”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] “Worship and the Art of the Long Meal” by Dave […]

  2. […] * Food and friendship often go together in ways that seem obviously natural when we stop to think abou… […]

  3. […] slowly –> I’ve written elsewhere about the lost art of the long meal. We tend to inhale food more than eat it; good dinner guests, however, will take their time to […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: