We eat at my wife's parents on Sunday afternoons. This is part of our Sabbath rhythm. I enjoy the tradition--probably more than the frozen pizza--but it does limit our opportunity to eat lunch with others from our church.
Shared meals are a mark of spiritual health (not considering the trans fat and high fructose corn syrup). The New Testament calls this "table fellowship." The table might be implied: the leg space between squatters at Jesus' miraculous feeding (John 6). Or the table could be literal: Martha's fine China and best gourmet dish (Luke 10:38ff). These meals happened outside the synagogue walls and temple courts. They happened in upper rooms, courtyards, and small homes. They happened often (Acts. 2:42ff).
In the Western world, the family dinner has all but disappeared. Dinner has been expedited, commercialized, and reduced to a short drive and value meal number: McFamily Dinner. Its disappearance is highlighted by a recent PSA I heard encouraging families to eat together several times a week. Apparently shared meals promote healthy family dynamics. So it goes for the church family.
But the good news is this: A couple from our church invited us to dine. We ate salad and homemade pizza grilled on their back porch. Each slice was personalized, replete with custom toppings and designer crust. And this couple has invited others. Many. They are resurrecting the ancient practice of hospitality. Others are reciprocating. You come to my house, I come to yours.
More thoughtful work on spiritual community and shared meals has been penned by Wendell Berry, Albert Borgmann, and Eugene Peterson. But I propose that the frequency of shared meals is a good measurement for health in the scattered church for three reasons.
Shared Space: An invitation to another person's home provides knowledge that is not always easily accessible from online profiles or Sunday morning small talk. Decorum, cleanliness, DVD titles, background music and magazine subscriptions are all on display. Truth be told, shared meals feed our curiosity as much as our belly.
Shared Resources: Communal meals loosen the grip that our resources hold on us. They require us to give of our refrigerator and cabinets, our stack of napkins and tray of clean silverware, our milk and eggs and busy schedules.
Shared Words: The supper table provides a context for conversation that might range from meal blessing to story-telling and everything in between. More words are passed with bread rolls than the offering plate.
A healthy church shares meals. Space, resources, and words are exchanged regularly. Frozen pizzas stay in the box.