Gathering at the Table
While food obviously satisfies our hunger, gathering at the table with family and friends is so much more than feeding our bellies. It’s an opportunity to open our hearts in conversation. Gathering at the table holds the power to revolutionize the way families and friends connect because we find sweet community as life is shared at the table.
Jesus prioritized time around the table because He understood the power it represents - the holy moments, the sensory experiences, the object lessons, and the memories of meals intertwined with gatherings. Did you know that the Bible has over seven hundred references to the act of eating and drinking? In Luke’s Gospel alone, we read of food and gathering around the table about fifty times! These are pictures of Biblical hospitality.
In John’s Gospel, we see Jesus dining with His followers when He extends his “gritty” hospitality in serving them bread and fish on the sandy shores of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:12-19). Luke tells about Jesus appearing to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead. When He asks his unconvinced friends for something to eat, they gave him a piece of broiled fish. As they consumed this meal together, the conversation that followed “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” which were fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection to life (Luke 24:36-49).
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus walked along the road explaining God’s Word to some men. When they came to the village of Emmaus, they extended an invitation to Jesus to join them for supper. They gathered at the table, and Jesus took the bread and broke it and offered a blessing over the food. In this moment, the men’s eyes were opened, and they recognized the risen Christ! (Luke 24:28-31)
I wonder if Jesus prayed the traditional Hebrew blessing over the bread with His friends from Emmaus and in the account of His blessing the multiplication of loaves and fish for the over 5000 people gathering on the Bethsaida countryside. It would sound something like this:
“Baruch Atah Yahweh Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.”
Blessed are you, Yahweh our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
In this moment of sacred prayer, people gathered at the table get a glimpse of the Savior of the world. They get to see and hear and talk with Jesus! When we practice Biblical hospitality of gathering friends and neighbors around our family tables, we also get to experience the presence of Jesus and share Him with others.
My family has practiced a weekly tradition of gathering at the table with the purpose of intentionally sharing Christ with one another and our guests for over a decade now. We call this weekly meal our Shabbat, which means to cease, stop and rest. In this busy culture of evening sports practices and music lessons that can crowd out family dinners, we purposed to have at least one night a week that was sacred family time at the table.
On Saturday nights, we place fresh-baked challah on the table along with grape juice, specialty cheeses, and cut vegetables with hummus. We have olives to remind us to be the salt of the earth. We have fruit to remind us to grow in the fruit of His Spirit. We have a liturgy that we recite together to remember what Jesus has done for us to make it possible for us to be in relationship with Him. And we linger at the table in meaningful, rich conversations.
Since my family attends Saturday night services at church, our Shabbat is later than it once was, but we sometimes discuss and debate the weekend message while it’s fresh on our minds. We invite guests to our Shabbat so that we can share life together with others. This has been our family’s effort of practicing Biblical hospitality, but “gathering at the table” takes on many forms.
This summer one of the women’s Bible studies at Orchard Hill has focused on this topic of Biblical hospitality, and I have had the blessing of hearing about the responses that participants have had to our study.
One table leader invited a woman new to Bible study over for lunch.
Three unlikely friends walked the perimeter of the church property to get to know one another.
A mentor opened her home on a Saturday night to some young mamas and their little ones for food and friendship-building.
Two couples new to our church double-dated at a local restaurant before attending the Chris Jamison concert in Zelienople.
A young mother of three invited a new friend and her toddler over for a playdate and conversation as they shared a loaf of warm banana bread together.
Chocolate bread and strawberries were offered in a “ding-dong-ditch” by an anonymous woman in our study to a struggling single mother.
Pastries, cookies, and cupcakes have spontaneously been offered on Tuesday nights by participants of the study in response to what we are learning from Jesus’ example of simple, yet life-giving ways of welcoming others and pointing them to the fullness of life in Christ.
I have learned this summer that the purposes of practicing hospitality are three-fold: encouragement, mentorship, and evangelism. We gather people at our table so that we can nourish one another with good food and life-giving conversation. We gather together to intentionally mentor others to find and follow Jesus. We gather to talk about the completed work of Christ in our lives because it’s there that we find rest.
Doing life around the table was one of Jesus’s favorite ways to enact change in people - His most profound yet simple strategy for mentorship, evangelism and the encouragement of His followers. So, let’s follow His lead.
Emily DeAngelo joined the Orchard Hill Church Adult Ministry Team in August 2018 as Co-director of Women’s Ministry. She felt welcomed by the Orchard Hill family immediately upon moving to the Pittsburgh area in January after 21 years of living in Carlisle, PA.
Emily has 25 years of experience as an educator and is devoted to knowing God and making Him known to others. Most recently she served as Director of Creativity and Curriculum for Children’s Ministry at Carlisle Evangelical Free Church, where she equipped and prepared volunteers for children's ministry. Prior to this she served in various roles as a teacher in homeschooling, private and public sectors. Emily holds an Education Degree from North Central College, Naperville, IL, and has received theological training from Evangelical Theological Seminary, Myerstown, PA.
She and her husband, Cory, have three children in college and careers. They now live in Marshall Township with their youngest two children, Kat and Micah.