In early childhood, my mother enjoyed sitting with her father at the supper table. Whilst always attentive to etiquette, he partook with quiet joy, thankful to have an appetite, and delighting in the whole sensory experience of aroma, texture and flavour. His table was often shared with guests who, in the inter-war years would arrive for a weekend of fellowship, bringing news of friends around the country. There would be lively exchanges, banter and humour along with the nourishment of ministry from the word of God. Thus the true sense of communion pervaded the time and space around the good things of God’s provision.
Imagine the supper table at the home of the disciple Peter, or at Bethany where Martha would make everyone welcome to spend time together around the food she had prepared. The conversation would flow amongst the gathering, recounting the wonder of a miracle witnessed, and the amazement and gratitude of someone healed of disease and restored to family life. There would be questions about the meaning of a parable, perhaps amusement about the comments of children, and hushed reports of encounters with the invading forces and zealous religious authorities. What would be on the menu? Fish, netted in the latest catch, freshly baked bread, roasted grains, herbs, olives and dips. There might be some honeycomb, figs, raisins and dates or creamy cheese. In the company of Jesus, a simple meal became a feast of nourishment for body and for the soul.
When we sit down to a meal, we have certain expectations. We trust the cook’s good intentions to offer a healthy repast of ingredients we normally favour, although the occasional novel element might challenge the status quo, and educate the palate. We will benefit best if we have not filled up with junk food beforehand. We set aside time to appreciate the provision rather than bolting it down and hurrying away, and we hope to be at peace with the host in conversation.
Each of these aspects will have an impact on the nourishment we gain from feeding prayerfully on the Word of God. The abundance of junk food, the hurried ‘thought for the day’ snack, the rejection of any challenging ingredient, will not lead to spiritual strength and maturity. We need time to receive, to contemplate, to absorb Heaven’s food.
It was the custom, in the eastern lands, for the host to honour a guest by scooping from the communal dishes, a choice morsel and presenting it directly for special enjoyment. For many people, mealtime can be a solitary time, taken in isolation. But, as we read in the company of Jesus, that special morsel will stand out from the Text, his gift of grace, hope and encouragement just for you.
“Bread of Heaven
Feed me now and evermore.”