A few years ago, our small home community decided to set aside one meeting a month for a Potluck. Someone decides on a theme - from mexican to breakfast to more creative ideas, like "things that fit in pita bread" - but the general rule is that anything is welcome except chips and salsa. The idea was to solidify and deepen our sense of community, and it seemed apparent that food - good food - was the way to help that happen.
Our group, a neighborhood-centered offshoot of our larger church body, meets together on an almost weekly basis, and it has been a shelter for my small family for the past four and a half years. This group has sustained us through the shaky first years of marriage, new careers, and babies, and stood by as dreams, both big and small, died and new ones took their places. They've seen and heard our questions, our joys and fears; they are our people.
So we gather, at least once a month, and eat together. And while the dining and living rooms are offered up as places to sit, we all invariably cluster together, standing shoulder to shoulder, around the big island bar in the kitchen. Our plates touch, we ask whose glass is whose, we reach over and under and ask if someone wants more or insist on swapping recipes. As we refill wine glasses and scoop up second helpings, we talk about more than just Sunday's message; we talk life, struggles, epiphanies, but also the just-normal: what we watched or read or did, or the best "new" place to get a beer and burger or a good latte and pastry (a common topic of conversation in Portland). It's an atmosphere of laughter, intimacy, and safety.
It's also the way curious newcomers, random friends, acquaintances, and the odd visiting family member are welcomed into the fray. Sharing a meal is disarming and un-intimidating. Conversation comes more easily between bites, and no one is put on the spot or feeling required to demonstrate their "level" of spirituality.
I like what Tim Chester says about the theology of food in his book A Meal With Jesus: "Food expresses our dependence on God and on other people. Meals embody friendship and welcome...and meals are a central and powerful expression of community." And we've seen this play out beautifully in our lives and the lives of those in our church family.
Around that big kitchen bar, we are reminded that we are dependent on each other, and that this thing we're doing is about more than just us. This is what the young church would have had in the forefront of their minds, and something that is so easy to forget after a millennia of waiting for Jesus' return and the ultimate wedding feast. Again, Chester's words resonate: "A meal in the presence of God is the goal of salvation."
Returning to the table month after month rekindles this hope in our hearts; a hope for the Kingdom now and the one to come. And the food is good.