The Shape of the Christian Meal

There is a lot of talk about spirituality in culture these days. It has become cool to be spiritual. But this interest does not always translate into a return to God. The problem seems to be that we in the contemporary west want a spirituality that we design, that we dream up. We want a spirituality that fits us, rather than remakes us. The irony then is that our spirituality can just be one more place to hide from the true and living God, one more place to live in delusion. So here is my question: what is it that keeps our spirituality distinctly Christian? In thinking through this issue, this confusion of God-talk in our culture, we are rediscovering that Jesus has given us a resource in which to form and maintain our Christian shape. Formation needs form, and the meal helps us pay attention to the form. At Westside, we are learning to pay more attention to the communion meal in our worship, to let its themes permeate our thinking about life and God. We are learning to live in all that the Christian meal teaches us.

It is important to see that the communion meal has a definitive shape to it, a progressive movement deeply embedded in both the feeding stories of Jesus and the last supper. In every telling of these meals there is a four-fold shape that repeats: Jesus takes the bread, blesses or gives thanks for it, breaks it, and gives it (see Matthew 14, 15, 26). Is it possible to see this repeated pattern as instructive to our lives as Jesus-followers? We think so. We understand this four-fold shape of the meal as a rehearsal of how God forms our souls. As we now move towards Easter, we are contemplating what this might mean for us.

Last Sunday we began with the first movement: Jesus takes the bread. He takes what we bring him. The disciples of Jesus brought the bread and wine, but more importantly they brought themselves to the table. And that is the simple starting point of spiritual life. To offer God the true person you are. The bread and wine brought to Jesus were most likely of ordinary and unremarkable quality. It was what Jesus did with those elements that made them more than they were otherwise. And we bring to God our unremarkable lives: our common life, common sin, common trouble, common aspirations – all the stuff of our humanity. And taking who we are, he begins his work.

True Christian spirituality begins as a movement of the soul towards God. It is as simple as that. As a pastor, I am continually amazed that I get to see how this works in people. One of my greatest joys and privileges is to be where ordinary people are offering God the substance of who they are. It is so beautiful to see how he takes us, and makes us into something more, the sacrament of his presence for the life of the world.

See you this Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11.

Bob Osborne

Some questions for further reflection:

  1. How do you react to the generic spirituality talk in our culture? What is your take on what is going on right now?
  2. How do you keep your Christian “shape”? Are you concerned about it?
  3. What does grace signify for you? What word associations can you make with grace?
  4. How do you understand the Christian meal? What does it mean to you?