THE GOD WHO EATS WITH US
By Jacob Loh
"When he was at the table with them ...." (Luke 24:30)
Think about this this word: table. What comes to mind?
What comes to my mind is not a piece of furniture, the mahjong table, or table tennis, but these 3 things:
We can think about the many times our relationship with one another is deepened as we gather around the table for a meal. Before the pandemic, the church I worshipped in would rearrange the tables after Sunday service. We ate together once a month. Our community life was enriched as we fellowshipped around the table with new and old friends.
Even under the lockdown, we can turn the negative into positive. Family members can bond with one another as they gather at the dinner table for meals. It is possible to enjoy nourishing conversations with one another, young and old, as we makan around the table.
Likewise Jesus desires that we enjoy a deeper relationship with him. He is always ready to have fellowship with us, especially when our love for him is getting lukewarm. He is at the door of our hearts, knocking and then waiting, so that we can open our hearts and invite him in, so that he eats with us and we with him (see Revelation 3:20).
In the Emmaus account, we see that the intimacy of table fellowship enabled the two disciples to recognise Jesus. The theme of table fellowship is central in the book of Luke, with many of the resurrection appearances associated with table fellowship (eg. Luke 24:41-45; Acts 1:4).
Yes, like the disciples on the Emmaus road, we can experience the God who reveals Himself to us through scripture. However scripture does not always yield its secrets easily. In fact, for some time the two disciples walked and talked through Scripture, yet they had no idea the stranger was Jesus. They spent hours listening to the voice of Jesus but couldn't recognise him.
It is only when the disciples invite the stranger into their lives that the recognition occurs. It is only when they communed around the table that the spiritual blindness is lifted from the disciples.
Table fellowship speaks about more than just eating. It is also about the sharing of lives. The disciples must be willing to share with Jesus and to receive from his hands. The ulltimate table fellowship draws us to the Last Supper - where we share the commitment to follow Christ in suffering and offering ourselves unto him, even to death.
Today, let us be grateful for the table fellowship we can experience with one another and also with the Lord himself. In our fellowship may we also ponder these words from Paul, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the FELLOWSHIP of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phil.3:10).
Malaysians enjoy food and many are self-confessed foodies. Food is central in daily life. "Have you eaten?" say the Chinese as they greet each other.
Food is also featured prominently in Scripture. During the exodus of the Israelites,God gave daily manna in the wilderness. Manna was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers that had been made with honey (Exodus 16:31). We see God providing nutritious food in barren lands. Have you experienced God's provision in the barrenness of life?
In the life and ministry of Jesus, we see that food is central. After he first called his disciples, his first mighty act was to turn water into wine at a wedding feast. In his final act of love before he was crucified, they ate together: body as bread, covenant as cup, in the upper room.
In between those first and final acts around food, Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (see Mt 9). And who can forget the giant picnic scene (see Jn 6) where Jesus multiplied food and ate with the hungry crowd until there was so much leftover - barley loaves piled up 12 baskets full.
And the gospel tells us one of the first things after Jesus rose from the dead was to eat with his disciples by the beach or at home (see eg. the account in Jn 21; Lk 24).
Food, from its first to last mention, is a major theme in the Bible. And one day we will experience the best of the best food in heaven. The prophet Isaiah (25:6) describes it this way,
"On this mountain the Lord Almighty
will prepare a feast of rich food for all the people,
a banquet of aged wine -
the best of meats (char siew and siew yoke)
and the the finest of wines."
As we reflect on the Emmaus account we know that at the end of the long, tiring journey the two disciples and the stranger entered the home and had a meal together. We may not know what they ate, but surely it would be some warm food to fill their hungry stomachs and nourish their souls.
Today in our life application, let us be grateful to God, the good chef, who prepares good food and and who puts food on our table.
Food on the table - during the pandemic, many people struggle to put food on the table. Today, we pray that when God bless us with more food on the table, we can respond lovingly and rightly to help others who are in need of basic food. Lord, we pray as you taught us : Give us OUR (not my) daily bread or food.
Growing up, I was impacted by my mum's hospitable lifestyle. My mum would cook extra amounts of fried meehoon and boiled tong suey during weekends. And she would welcome my friends with a hospitable heart to makan whenever they dropped by our house without notice.
One year, during Chinese New Year, my mum reached out to a lonely pastor. She laboured in the kitchen to prepare a lavish reunion dinner to bless us - as well as this who had no immediate and extended family at that time. If not for my mum's hospitality and invitation for reunion dinner, this pastor would probably be eating KFC during that auspicious New Year's eve dinner.
The dishes and delicacies, which my mum cooked from the heart and laid on the table, reflect this great biblical theme: hospitality.
At the village of Emmaus, the two disciples pressed hospitality upon Jesus in a way that reminded me of the hospitality extended to the angels in Genesis 18:3; 19:2. The unknown traveler, who could be God himself, is welcomed by human hearts.
In the ancient world, hospitality to strangers ranked high as a religious virtue and there were various stories, Jewish and otherwise, about "entertaining angels (or gods) unawares. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (13:2).
In our life today, let us ponder who are the "strangers" in our midst. May the Lord guide us to respond creatively to "share with people who are in need and to practise hospitality" (Romans 12:13). We do this not because of obligation and custom, but from our loving and generous heart.
A final note: the disciples were amply rewarded for sharing food and hospitality. Indeed, hospitality can be a two-way blessing!
Lord, as we think and look at a table today, help us to capture these themes of fellowship, food and hospitality. Journey with us in our lives, open our hearts by your grace so that we can live out these themes at the table, in good or difficult times. Amen.