For many homes, dinnertime has been revisioned as TV time. Somehow, we have lost the power of the dinner table to shape society. Even the church has lost how powerful a dinner table can be, especially when it comes to reaching unchurched people. With the majority of churches and Christians lagging in confidence when it comes to sharing their faith, perhaps now is the time to remember the power of a Jesus table. If you are proposing having your church do a community dinner soon, you are proposing a great thing. Below are a few tips for hosting a Jesus table.
Embracing the Dinner Table History
Jesus spent a lot of His time around tables. In fact, J. Crossan suggests that to watch a day in the life of Jesus would be to watch him mostly healing and eating. Other scholars, like Christine Pohl agree, and points out that Jesus’ supper times were a consistent and prominent part of His mission. That is a powerful insight. It doesn’t take long to see in the Gospels how many times Jesus reclined at dinner tables with scurrilous people, so much so that in Luke 7:34 he garnered the reputation of being a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners. But this was part of our Lord’s divine strategy to download the kingdom of God onto the earth and into the hearts of the irreligious. Christine Pohl goes on to say that these dinners were intended by Jesus to be an invitation to faith. In this way Jesus embedded the gospel into the dinner table sociology. This is the spiritual reason the church grew from hundreds to millions while it was using the dinner table theology. This is our history and our heritage. So, any group that is preparing a dinner table in the likeness of Christ is actually preparing a colorful vision of the Gospel.
Hosting tip #1: Serve the food in a way that reveals the abundance and generosity of the gospel; and expect people to be drawn to Christ.
Invite the Unlikely
The warmth of Christ in our hearts gives us a wonderful sense of fellowship. So warm is that feeling that some never wants to leave their Christian friends to reach the unchurched. It is a very good thing that the people who invited you and me into the God-Family did not think that way. Every church must be reminded from time to time to include people who have little to offer back. This is actually supposed to be at the heart of Christian food events. In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus instructed the hearers not to invite people for a banquet who can return the favor, but instead invite those who cannot pay you back. We see such an important interchange in Luke 19:5 where Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in a tree and invited himself over for dinner. There are a couple key things to note from this story: First, not all isolated people are poor; and Second, as they ate together Zacchaeus opened up his heart and changed his life. This is the power of a table when Jesus is sitting at it; that is also the power of a table when Jesus’ people are sitting at it.
Hosting tip #2: Invite some people to your dinner who are not likely to be invited to other tables; and eat with them rather than serving them.
When Jesus Shows Up
Jesus loved the dinner table. This is something the Early Church understood that we have not. In fact, the Early Church held that Jesus might even show up in a physical form during their dinners, like he did to the guys on the road to Emmaus and the disciples behind locked doors in an upper chamber. Those events and more created a sense among the Early Church that He might just do it again. Some of those Agape Feast events went so far as to set an empty chair for Him. That anticipation lasted clear until long after the Constantinian turn. And in fact, I propose that is what drove the formation of the doctrine of transubstantiation.
The American church needs to recover the idea that Christ will actually show up if we set up a Jesus table. Many Christ followers give learned assent to the theology of Omnipresence, but do not grasp the promise of an increased presence at a Jesus table. What will actually happen in any room, which is being hosted by Christ followers, is on a far higher level than food and fellowship – it is a divine invite to come and have dinner with Jesus. Let us stop and consider how compelling of an offer that is. To have dinner with Jesus is to have dinner with the Healer, the Comforter, the Savior, and the Provider. In short, a Jesus table is a portal between the house of God and the house of man. And that is no small opportunity.
Hosting tip #3: Expect Jesus to show up and do some unexplainable things for your guests; He would not miss it for the world.
A Jesus dinner table is a powerful thing. Not only is it the ultimate image of inclusion in God’s generous family, but it is also an invitation to restart our lives while eating with Christ and Christ’s people. Properly understood, we can change the world with a dinner table.
Revelation 3:20 reveals a picture of Jesus knocking on the door of peoples lives, and whoever opens that door will find that our Lord still wants to simply have dinner with them. That is heartbeat of a Jesus table; that is the divine spark that will be present in your banquet room. Have your group set an abundant table; invite the unlikely, sit to eat with them, and Jesus will show up. After all, your dinner is actually His dinner.