Our youngest son is home for the summer holidays and, as has been the practice in years past, he had his high school classmates over for a meal. As many as were able to turned up for food, fun and fellowship. The gauche and less-than-confident schoolboys of 4C1, Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) in 2008, have morphed into strapping young men. But the bonds of community that had been forged through the fires of facing a common foe — the ‘O’ Level exams — continue to hold firm.
On Friday night, as I watched the 17 or so bodies crushed around a table that would comfortably seat ten, I thanked God for this reminder of how Christological it is to share a meal. I saw, as they ate, how struggles were shared, triumphs were relived and ties were strengthened. They even remembered that it was the birthday of one of their friends.
Jesus’s meals are not just symbols, they’re also application….And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community, and welcome. (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, 14)
For the longest time, I could not explain why it gave me so much satisfaction to cook meals for family and friends. Okay, so maybe I should admit that the positive rubs from satisfied diners/guests give me an emotional high that has nothing to do with snorting banned substances. But it’s much more. Beyond the savouring of tasty treats, it’s the flowing of life-giving conversations, the remembering of our common humanity, the acceptance of neighbour.
Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, and providing. Meals slow things down. Some of us don’t like that. We like to get things done. But meals force you to be people oriented instead of task oriented. Sharing a meal is not the only way to build relationships, but it is number one on the list. (Chester, A Meal with Jesus, 47)
Those of us who cook and host meals, offer ourselves — our time, our abilities, our resources. In so doing, we connect the dots between Romans 12:1 and Matthew 25:34, 35. We offer ourselves as “living sacrifices” so that someone’s hunger might be fed, thirst slaked, and aloneness lifted. I’m not trying to over-spiritualise everything, but when we see how many lessons Jesus taught over meals, how much love and acceptance He showed, I’m so glad to be able to walk (however tentatively) in those footsteps.
And while I enjoy cooking up a storm, it really isn’t about how sumptuous the meal is. I often recall fondly a very simple meal I enjoyed at a dear friend’s home decades ago. Tom and Susie were an American couple who were living in Singapore for a season because of Tom’s work at the National University of Singapore. One evening, seated at their small wooden dining table, we shared a meal of wheat crackers, canned tuna with mayonnaise, a simple salad, and burnt rice tea (they’d done a stint in Japan). I remember this so vividly because there was a glow around that table which came from the warmth of good conversation, mutual affection and Christ’s binding love.
This kind of bonding can only take place when people meet face to face. And so, even though our son has kept in touch with his friends via Facebook and Skype, nothing beats the raucousness and joy of a room full of people making up for lost time. Disembodied voices during a Skype chat, often marred by unreliable internet connections, just don’t cut it. As my beloved often says in his sermons, God created us with bodies, and so when friends meet, their bodies need to show up too!
All our sons, at one point or another, have had friends over to our home for meals. Last Friday’s was just the most recent one in a long line of reunions. But it was special. These young men took the trouble to bring along their high school uniforms. Some had more difficulty than others getting into their old uniforms. One of Soo Inn’s white shirts was commandeered for one of the guys, just so that he would not be left out of the sea of white school shirts. What a riot it was! But a joyous ruckus! And then, spontaneously, they broke into their old school song. Near brought a tear to my eye. They then lined up our dining chairs so that they could take a “class photo”. I did double duty as a photographer. Gladly.
Some of these young men know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Many don’t. They were not invited so that we could share the Four Spiritual Laws with them, although we would have happily shared the Good News with them had the opportunity presented itself. They were here to savour love, acceptance and nourishment. All of which we freely provide because God first showed us what a joy it is to receive from Him. Each meal we share is a reminder of the heavenly banquet that awaits those of us who put our trust in Him.
From what we have read in the Bible, we believe that all that is good in this life will be redeemed when we get to the new heaven and the new earth (see Isaiah 65:17-25). So…I can’t wait to be able to cook sumptuous meals for all and sundry without even raising a sweat.
The best is yet to be!