The Bible begins and ends with meals. The first words of God to humans are an invitation to eat; the first conflict in the Bible is over a forbidden meal; the last act of Jesus before his death is to share a meaning-laden feast with his disciples; and the final vision of the new world is of a massive, joyful banquet.
One of the blessings we enjoy as Christians is that wherever we find ourselves in the world, we have a community to which we belong, where genuine relationships with other Christians can be enjoyed. If we neglect table fellowship, we will miss one of the wonderful ways God builds authentic community in the church.
As creatures made in God’s image, we were created for relationships, both with God and with other image bearers. By God’s design, therefore, genuine relationships are the basis for all human flourishing. We learn in the Bible that sharing a meal together is one of the primary ways relationships are established, deepened, and enjoyed both with God and with others.
Jesus was rooted in and lived this tradition. Just as he shared food with all sorts and conditions of people as a sign of the inclusivity of God’s kingdom, so too did the early church. The gatherings to eat together were earthly representations of the heavenly banquet imagery that had been reinforced by Jesus through his teaching as well as his actions. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, the table fellowship of the early Christians was warm and accepting.
The joy of eating together, the value of table fellowship for deepening relationships, the missional fruitfulness of shared meals and the opportunities for sharing faith, biblical study, prayer and worship around the meal table have all been rediscovered many times.
The Old Testament prophets often compared life in the new heavens and earth with the picture of a divine banqueting table (Isa. 25:6; 55:1–2). In the New Testament, we regularly find Jesus reclining “at table” during His earthly ministry, engaging with real people, furthering His kingdom work, fostering true community, demonstrating reconciliation with God, and building genuine fellowship among His disciples (Luke 5:29; 7:36; 11:37; 14:15).
I’m convinced that one of the most important spiritual disciplines for us to recover in the kind of world in which we live is the discipline of table fellowship. In the fast-paced, tech-saturated, attention-deficit-disordered culture in which we find ourselves, Christians need to recover the art of a slow meal around a table with people we care about. “Table fellowship” doesn’t often make the list of the classical spiritual disciplines. But in the midst of a world that increasingly seems to have lost its way with regard to matters of both food and the soul, Christian spirituality has something important to say about the way that sharing tables nourishes us both physically and spiritually. We need a recovery of the spiritual significance of what we eat, where we eat, and with whom we eat.