Food and fellowship (part 1)

In some Christian congregations, events are often promoted with the promise of “food, fun, and fellowship” — the three f’s of church social life.  Not exactly a holy trinity.  But there is something about food, across time and culture, that brings people together more easily in an atmosphere of conviviality and fellowship (on the other side, just try forgetting to bring the donuts for Sunday School and see what happens).  Indeed, in biblical times, sharing a meal was an important social ritual and expression of hospitality, which is why Jesus was routinely criticized by his enemies for daring to eat with the riff-raff.

But imagine this scenario.

You’re in a church-sponsored evening Bible study with several others.  The makeup of the large group reflects the socioeconomic diversity of the church: some group members, like yourself, are scraping together a living at a minimum wage job, while others are quite well off indeed.

One day, the wealthiest member of the group volunteers to host the study at his home.  It’s a bit more of a drive for you, and your work hours are somewhat unpredictable, so on the evening of the study you have to drive straight from work and arrive a few minutes late.

Photo by Remigiusz Szczerbak
Photo by Remigiusz Szczerbak

You’re almost embarrassed to be seen climbing out of your old beater of a car, parked between a Lexus and a BMW in front of such an opulent home.  You enter hesitantly, to find others waiting in the large foyer — waiting for what?  Soon, your host appears, wiping his mouth with a linen napkin.  Trailing behind, patting their stomachs, smiling and chatting, some still holding wine goblets, are other members of the group — the wealthy ones.  Apparently, they arrived a bit earlier for a sumptuous but private dinner party.

The host comes over to greet his guests, as you try to conceal the rumbling in your empty stomach.  Let’s see, you think to yourself, I still have half a Snickers bar out in the car — I wonder if I could sneak that without being seen?  And while you’re lost in thought, your host comes over and genially takes your hand in welcome.  “So glad you’re here!” he says sincerely.  “Are you ready to study God’s word together?”

Are you?  What’s going through your mind as you respond to his greeting and invitation?

The analogy is far from perfect, and it’s impossible to translate with certainty across cultures and centuries — but I believe that wrapping our imaginations around some similar scenario will help us understand why Paul is so irate at the Corinthian Christians for the socially and morally clueless way they “celebrate” the Lord’s Supper as a church.  More on that in the next post.