By REV. KAREN HERNANDEZ, Paster of Living Hope – Kuna United Methodist Church
This summer I heard the Australian thought-leader Alan Hirsch speak at a conference outside of Seattle. He said, “You can eat your way to the kingdom of God.” He really believes that. In fact, he believes that that’s all one needs to do in order to enter the kingdom of God. (There are other ways, but eating can be sufficient.) I immediately thought it was a great but impossible idea. After all, anyone who pays attention to scripture knows that disciples (serious followers of Jesus in any age) practice worship, scripture reading, works of mercy, generous giving, prayer, and a host of other things as we try to follow Jesus’ example. Those especially saintly and disciplined believers often practice fasting, visiting the sick and imprisoned, sharing their faith with others,…and the list goes on and on. Why would so many believers do all of that if “you can eat your way into the kingdom of God”?
Perhaps we should take another look at the scriptures. The Gospels, and Luke in particular, are full of stories about food. There’s the meal eaten with sinners and tax collectors (Mark 2:13-17), a meal eaten in the home of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt. 14:13-21), the parable of the great supper (Luke 14:15-24), the feast and party in celebration of the prodigal son’s return (Luke 15:11-32), the last supper (Matthew 26:17-30), the Resurrected Christ having breakfast on the beach with the disciples (John 21:1-14), and the evening meal with disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), just to name a few! Time and again we see Jesus practicing table fellowship—freely sharing the love of God over a meal. (Methodists, like me, should know this very well. We joke about potlucks being the unofficial third sacrament in our church!)
Perhaps we believe in grace without trusting in grace. My tradition and beliefs say that the bread and juice we receive at communion are “outward and visible signs of inward grace and the means by which we receive the same.” Based on that, paired with the Christian understanding that God’s grace is sufficient, Hirsch is correct: you can eat your way to the kingdom of God.
Hirsch wasn’t claiming that the occasional celebration of Holy Communion is the only thing necessary to guarantee one’s spot in heaven. Rather he was suggesting that we practice table fellowship the way Jesus did, which means eating meals with those who share our faith and also dining with sinners and tax collectors. Look again at the story of the last supper and you’ll find that Jesus even eats holiday meals (in this case, the Passover meal) with those who will deny and betray him.
Sharing meals with friends or my church family has been the extent of my table fellowship to date, but I am reconsidering that. What about you? How often do you eat and engage in dinner conversation with complete strangers? When was the last time you chose to break bread with someone who betrayed you? If we ask God to bless a meal and be present at the table, imagine the healing that could happen with this kind of table fellowship! Give it a try. You just might eat your way into the kingdom of God.
If you do try, I would love to hear about your experiences! Email me at RevKarenHernandez@gmail.com.