The Lord’s-style Supper

What do you know about Jesus? If you ask the average person on the street they might offer just a few points. He’s God. His symbol is the cross. He died horribly and it’s somehow good.

If you asked people when he was still around they might have had two major points. He eats with everyone and he heals people. I am going to zoom in on that first part. One of the biggest smears about Jesus was that he was a glutton and a drunkard. Why? It goes back to what people knew about him. Everyone was talking about him eating and drinking. What’s more he wasn’t careful about the people he ate with.

One of the ways that other Jews set themselves apart was what they ate and who they ate it with. Jews kept kosher which meant, among other things, that certain animals eaten by other groups were forbidden for them. This meant no eating pork with the Greek and Roman neighbors.

If you remember eating in a high school cafeteria then you know people still separate themselves into groups. Were you at the weird kids table like me? Were you a jock or a cheerleader? Where was the Kingdom of God there? At my high school, most were at least nominally Christian, but the hierarchy was deeply entrenched. You would also be hard pressed to find sharing. People ate food based on how much money their parents made. Is this the way in the places and among the people with whom you spend your time?

What would have happened if people just sat together? I remember my senior year when I was bussed to a different high school. I found myself eating alone in the hallway. I didn’t even have the weird kids to sit with.

Jesus was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners. If you live in a small town then you know how folks look down at you when you eat with “those people.” We might hate the IRS but the feeling against these tax collectors was a whole different level because these tax collectors were collaborators working for the occupying Romans. If he ate with them Jesus really would eat with anybody.

In Saving Paradise, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker talk about the changes in early Christianity based on art uncovered from history. According to their research, for the first thousand years after Jesus, the crucifixion did not appear in churches(ix[i]). On the other hand, Christian History Magazine tells us in the catacombs, fish coupled with bread and a cup of wine showed where believers gathered was present in the era of Christian persecution [ii]which was before the Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity  around 300[iii].

Even after Christ died and was resurrected Christians did not put the death and crucifixion at the center of their identity right away. What they did do was hold ritual meals. The early version of the Eucharist included a full meal. Everyone would bring food to share and it wasn’t a case of the wealthy giving to the poor. The wealthy were not supposed to eat on their own. Each brought what they had. Poor people brought their meager meal and shared it. They didn’t hold back just because they were poor.

Eating together was also pretty important in the Roman world. For them eating was more like high school. Where they sat, what food they ate and even who bought the food reinforced power structures. Food was given from the powerful to those who relied on them. The most powerful got the best with lower quality food and wine going out to those with less and less power. Pliny an important Roman philosopher recalled a party he went to where there were three levels of wine for three levels of honor and power at a banquet he attended. Even among the Romans this was controversial. Pliny suggested everyone should eat and drink the lowliest food [iv].

In our reading today, Paul counseled the Corinthians on how to have their Lord’s style supper (kyriakon deipnon). We would call it a potluck and scholars call it a share meal, but no matter what you call it, it bore special meaning to Christians at that time. Paul was not correcting special prayers or words to be used for this supper. The problem came when that Roman culture came seeping in. The well-to-do Christians ate before the working class. They also saved the best food for themselves. Paul pushed back against what he called one’s own style (idion deipnon) supper compared with the Lord’s style supper[v]. He was speaking figuratively not just literally. If you want to eat your own way, that is like the Romans, then do that at home, but eat the Christian way when you gather.  In the book In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed tell us that meal that Christians ate together was different. “ It was not handout, charity, or welfare, but an attempt to participate in a new creation that acknowledged God as owner of all things and humans as but stewards of a world not their own.”[vi] That moment that they ate together was paradise on this Earth, right now.

Paul ’s solution to the lack of sharing was a compromise. If they wouldn’t share the best that they had, then the least they could do was eat it at home before they came rather than eating separately with better food at what was supposed to be a share meal. Paul also called for a reordering of the full supper between the two ritual parts of the communion to emphasize the sharing and importance of the full meal together.[vii]

The hierarchies we see around us do not have to define our lives. The Kingdom of God can seem distant, but I experienced during high school two moments of the rigid division and isolation breaking down. At the second high school I attended, I was approached by someone I knew from summer musicals. He invited me to join his table rather than remain alone. I went from being an outsider to a friend. In another instance, I was on tour with the choir. I was able to approach the cheerleaders and talk to them, breaking down the walls between us. The hierarchy shattered and we were equal.

One time that I had a taste of equality while working at a soup kitchen when we took a break from serving food and actually sat and ate with the people who had come to the soup kitchen in need. We were no longer those in power serving them, we became just people eating together. Another time I found community was when I was at the School of the Americas protest. I stopped by the Catholic Worker house. They were preparing dinner. When I entered their house, I wasn’t an outsider. I wasn’t even a guest. I was immediately put to work and fed when we were done. The walls between us can be torn down. We can find equity and equality here and now.

  • How do you break the barriers between us?
  • How can our potlucks today be a moment in the Kingdom of God?

[i] pg ix, Parker, Rebecca Ann and Rita Nakashima Brock, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire



[iv] pg 305, Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom

[v] pg 306

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] pg 307


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