One of the best dinners that I’ve had with friends was in Athens, Greece, in the spring of 2008. All of them were and still are ministers. Some of us Greek, some American, and some Egyptian had gathered to explore the possibilities of proclaiming again the good news of God’s kingdom in the city, just as it had been done in the first century.
I remember the setting vividly. We were in a suburb of Athens called Glyfada which was less than a mile from the beautiful blue Mediterranean. We were very close to a location where the apostle Paul was believed to have first stepped foot on the coast of Greece. We were also not far from the Acropolis where the Parthenon is under continual restoration. It overlooks the Temple of Zeus as well as overlooking all of Athens, a city of 5 million people today. Cenchrea was on the way to Corinth where we’ve stood on a small shore of pebbles and could see an inlet known as the bath of Helen of Troy. We visited Corinth just a few days earlier and climbed to the top of the Acrocorinthus. We could see for miles. We also traveled to the Temple of Poseidon in an eastern town called Sounio. We were surrounded by thousands of years of history as we met with a few good friends to have a wonderful dinner.
It was a typical 75-degree evening with a slight breeze coming in from the sea. Our Greek hosts invited us to their modest house where they would serve some wonderful Greek dishes. Different aromas filled the small house and even wafted outside having escaped through the open patio door. Each of us anticipated a new cultural culinary experience. Of course, the best thing I remember eating that night was the baklava. The crisp layers of pastry and the combination of cinnamon, honey, and chopped walnuts, was incredible! There was plenty of conversation before, during, and after we ate. We discussed many things personal and many things in relation to God’s kingdom. We left that night knowing we had all come together and shared a special evening. We felt blessed and humbled.
Now, if you can use your imagination for a bit, imagine all of us in Athens enjoying the evening, aware of our surroundings and their historical significance, aware of why we’ve all come together for a meal. Our trips had been planned months in advance. God blessed us with a bit of time to meet as co-workers in His kingdom. Then, imagine one or several of us getting up and leaving after we’d had our fill of Greek cuisine. This would have been unthinkable to us. We would’ve especially insulted our jovial hosts. We all shared a special connection in the Lord as ministers and teachers. The rare occasion of seeing one another face to face, sharing stories, struggles, dreams, and more, was the reason for coming together this springtime night. The meal was simply a great way to celebrate that reason.
If you can still use your imagination, think about the way in which some of us celebrate our Sunday gatherings. In the congregations I’ve been blessed to serve and visit here in the United States, something different typically takes place. People aren’t gathering because of a special connection with other Christians. They aren’t gathering to see one another face to face, to share stories, to share struggles and dreams. They aren’t gathering, feeling like ministers, exploring opportunities to proclaim the good news to a city filled with monuments honoring mythical deities. Many times, people are coming together merely for a ceremonial meal, which for most, doesn’t involve them directly. It’s almost as if crowds have gathered on a first-century hillside in order to get the food and then leave the jovial host and his stories.
Believers have often been sterilized, stripped of their special connection to this incredible host in the procedure and anecdotal exhortations that seem to characterize our gatherings. We’re not being immersed into a biblical narrative that continues in our era and inspires us to dream for God’s kingdom. Many seem content with this mode of assembling, going through the traditional motions.
Jesus, our jovial Jewish host, has invited us to dinner. Why? Does Jesus just want to give us food, or does He want to celebrate our unique connection by sharing stories, by sharing struggles and dreams; by sharing His hope for reaching those who’ve lost theirs. The most memorable part of Jesus’s Last Supper was Jesus, the host, and the honored guest. The bread and fruit of the vine remind us of His story and His mission, both of which become ours. We aren’t to worship the emblems or the ceremony. We’re to let the emblems and ceremony speak of Him. We’re to relish our opportunity to have dinner with Jesus and each other. We should later separate feeling blessed and humbled.
Our connection in Athens in 2008 was because of Jesus. Our hearts were bonded together because of His story and mission. The dinner we shared with friends celebrated that bond that Jesus created. Are we connecting in our congregations today because of Jesus or are we content to go through ceremonial motions? Are hearts bonding because of Jesus’s story and mission, or are hearts drifting apart because Jesus isn’t really getting any time to share His story? Is the supper we’re taking celebrating a bond or celebrating itself? Are we departing feeling blessed and humbled or are we just departing?
Categories: The Gospel Story