Bonhoeffer asks, concerning the three communal meals, “What does it mean to recognize Jesus Christ by way of these gifts?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 46.
The first thing it means, Bonhoeffer replies, is that we recognize Christ as the Giver of all gifts. Secondly it means that all gifts are given “only for the sake of Christ” and “for the sake of Christ’s Word and its proclamation.” Christ is worthy to be praised because He (and the Father and Holy Spirit) has created all things and for His glory and pleasure they were created. When we gather for a communal meal our gathering should have Jesus Christ at its center and focus.
Thirdly it means that our Lord Jesus desires to be present with us and we are to confess the “gracious omnipresence of Jesus Christ” (page 47) when we gather. “Every breaking of bread together fills Christians with gratitude for the present Lord and God, Jesus Christ…Christians recognize their Lord as the true giver of all good gifts,” (page 47).
“At the table they [the community of believers] recognize their Lord as the one who breaks bread for them. The eyes of their faith are opened,” (page 47).
Thus there is a sacramental element to communal meals, whether it be the Eucharist, or a lunch together of hot dogs and potato chips. Both of the foregoing acknowledge the Presence of Christ in His people and they both look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – they not only look forward to that Supper, but they draw their strength from the reality of the Supper as they live as who they are in Christ. When those in life together gather, they gather in unity and communion with the transcendent people of God (Hebrews 12:18 – 24), they gather acknowledging that they have come to “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22) and to “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (12:24). One wonders why we don’t eat together more often.
It must have been a grand time of grace and love and communion when those first disciples in Acts gathered from house to house sharing both the Word of God and communal meals. In communion the sum is greater than the parts, but the parts living in isolation are less than they are – for they are only who they are when they are joined to one another. In unity there is witness of Jesus Christ and the Gospel (John 17), in isolation there is….what?
Communal meals and communal living (however that may look, and I think it may look a number of different ways), represent a statement that we are putting the Kingdom of God first and that our primary family is the family of God, Yes, we want to draw all of our natural family into our primary family, just as Noah no doubt wished to draw all of his family into the Ark, but when we come to Jesus Christ we, in a sense, are called to leave our father and mother and be joined to Christ. We can and must trust God in this, trust Him to give us wisdom and love and grace for others, trust Him to give us a sensitive compassionate witness, and trust Him for grace to be obedient witnesses. But it is Jesus who said that He would create division – we cannot explain that away as something that He really didn’t mean – there is a cost to following Jesus Christ.
If we believe Jesus, then unity in community is essential for witness (John 17) and therefore community (koinonia, life together) as a way of life (and community can only be found and experienced as a way of life) must be nurtured, encouraged, and sought – which necessarily means leaving behind the spirit of this age and living in the Spirit of the new creation which is coming in us and through us in Jesus Christ. We must be about building the Lord’s House and not our own individual houses (see Haggai).
Who knew the potential in a shared meal of hot dogs and potato chips?