The tablecloth should extend 10-15 inches off the edges and candlesticks should not been seen during daylight hours. The fork can never be held or used like a shovel and the soupspoon can’t touch the mouth. The salad is never cut with a knife and tea is sipped with the pinky finger in. The lady sitting to the right of the host is served first and if a woman needs to excuse herself for the bathroom, all of the men should stand up as she is leaving.
That’s why the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story recorded in all four gospels. Because what happens around the table matters, especially to God.
John 6:1-14 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
What sign did Jesus show us?
That eating together creates family.
That no matter how meager our offering, we give and God multiplies.
That Jesus’ most subversive act was eating with the wrong people.
Capitalism begins with scarcity, while Jesus’ economy begins with abundance.
What looks like nothing to us can be enough to feed everyone for God.
On February 1, 1960, Franklin McCain and three other students from North Carolina A&T University sat down for lunch in Greensboro. At the whites only counter, they politely asked for service and were roundly denied. The manager pointed towards the exit and the police officer tapped his mallet. It appeared that the only thing being served that day was either a trip to jail in handcuffs or a trip to the cemetery in a pine box. But the four students refused to stand up from their sit-in.
2000 years ago, Palestine was segregated too at meal times. Seating assignments were hierarchical, better the person, better the chair. Food was the same, veil and merlot for the prince, lentils and water for the pauper. Honored guest, please recline on the comfort of our couch. Dismissible servant, stay on your feet until we tell you differently.
What sign did Jesus show us?
He prepared his banquet on an equalitarian plot of grass, destroying the seating chart of old. He distributed loaf and fish equally, undermining any sense of superiority. He told the crowd to sit down because in the kingdom, only the host does the serving and standing.
Jesus made it a point to trespass all over the boundaries of dinning etiquette.
No wonder he was at the wedding feast in Cana and the buffet at Levi’s, in the home of Simon the Leper and in the kitchen of Zacchaeus the tax collector, having breakfast by the sea and dinner in the Upper Room. Nearly 50 times in the gospels, we find Jesus at table, eating his way through the New Testament.
Table companions, commensality communicates theology like nothing else. What we do with our food is the most faithful language we speak. To know someone is to know how and who they eat with.
And so here we are, ready to celebrate and consecrate, gathered around the truth that Church is always communion. That the Lord’s Supper is where we are taught our terrible table manners in the name of Jesus the Christ, the bread of life.