Excerpted from Kara Powell and Brad Griffin, Deep Justice Journeys: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living (Grand Rapids: Youth Specialties/Zondervan, 2009). Used with permission.
Meals as a team can be so much more than functional necessities while we serve; they can become holy moments through our table fellowship.
- Elements for Communion—either bread and juice or whatever’s available at your site. Don’t be afraid to use Communion elements that are indigenous to where you are serving, like rice or chapattis instead of the traditional bread or wafers your students might be accustomed to.
Note to Leader:
This discussion could happen during a meal, immediately after a meal, or even just before a meal if you don’t have impatient stomachs on your hands. You could also spread it out over the course of a few meals. In any case, this content will be best digested (so to speak) in the context of a meal.
Open by asking students about the food: Their favorite food so far; a local food they’re still hoping to try; and maybe what foods from home they are missing. Be sure to be sensitive to the presence of your hosts when you ask these questions. If students have been grumbling about the food, please use discretion in whether to ask these questions at all!
Q: What is your favorite thing about meals—here, at home, or anywhere?
Q: How many of you like eating with others? How many would rather eat alone? What makes a difference in whether you would rather eat alone or with other people?
Eating is something we do every day—it’s essential to life—but we seldom stop to reflect on how important it is that we eat together. We eat so we can keep living, but when we do it with others, it’s a reminder of our need to be in community with one another. In fact, when we look closely at Scripture we see that eating together is important to us spiritually, too.
Q: Why do you think eating is spiritually significant? How could sharing a meal be a spiritual encounter? Note that students may connect the dots differently here depending on whether you have had many conversations about the interconnectedness of our physical and spiritual lives.
Q: What examples from Scripture can you think of that describe people sharing meals that had some sort of spiritual significance? Likely Jesus’ Last Supper will be mentioned, but push them to think about (or suggest yourself) other meals, like Abraham’s visit from God (Genesis 18:1-15); the manna and quail God provided for the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16); Elijah’s food from ravens (1 Kings 17:6) and from an angel (1 Kings 19:5-8); and Jesus’ feeding of the crowds (Mark 6:30-44 and Mark 8:1-13). It has also been noted that Jesus is often eating (or going to a meal, or coming from a meal!) in the gospel of Luke.
Then say: Let’s look together at one meal in particular that gives us a picture of Jesus’ heart for justice and reconciliation through the way he ate his meals.
Have someone read Mark 2:13-17 and then explain: By recruiting a tax collector to follow him, Jesus was inviting one of the most hated members of Jewish society to be part of his team. Tax collectors dishonestly levied fees against their own people, often taking more than was required by the Roman occupiers and keeping quite a bit for themselves.
Q: What surprises you about this passage?
Q: How do you think these people felt about eating with Jesus? Why do you think the religious leaders were so upset?
You may also point out that tax collectors were not only considered traitors by the people but also declared “unclean” by the Pharisees, which meant they could not attend worship or hang out with other Jews, especially to eat. So Levi’s table, according to this context, was a defiled table—an unholy place. Yet we find Jesus eating there! What’s more, the text identifies that “many” tax collectors and sinners followed Jesus. It’s one thing to walk behind someone along the road, but quite another to sit with him at the table and eat. Jesus’ table fellowship with the outcasts of his community was an act of both healing and worship—of making people well and making them holy.
Q: What do Jesus’ eating habits reveal to us about Jesus’ perceptions of justice?
Q: What do you think our own eating habits on this justice mission, both individually and as a group, communicate about God’s heart for justice?
Q: In light of all of this, what might we want to do differently when we next eat together? Depending on whether your team eats alone or with locals—or in the case of many mission trips, alone while locals cook and watch—students might bring up uncomfortable feelings or questions about whether it seems just to exclude locals from your table. These are good questions to explore, so be sure you have thought through the implications of changing your eating plans if that’s where your group heads in the discussion!
Continue: Eating together communicates a sense of family-like connectedness. Jesus’ common practice of sharing meals with “saints and sinners” alike unveils the value of table fellowship. The Lord’s Supper takes this a step further, making it an act of connection with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with other believers as we remember Christ’s sacrifice.
Jesus used food—bread and wine—to illustrate his death on the cross. Some Christians believe that every time we eat with other believers, we are announcing Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that he will come again. And almost all Christians believe sharing in the act of Communion is a sacred practice. So today we are going to share the Lord’s Supper together as part of our meal. This is our act of faithfulness to eat as a community seeking God’s justice on earth.
Transition into a time of taking Communion together, or if you are still waiting to eat at this point, begin your meal and then follow it with Communion! At some point during your Communion experience, lead the following discussion:
Psalm 34:8 invites us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in him.”
Let’s think for a minute about this question: Who else needs to be brought to the table? Whom do you know who desperately hopes to hear an invitation to come and eat, to find themselves at home with Christ, and to taste the new life Jesus offers? You could try to focus students’ answers on the people in the community you’re serving, or you could encourage them to think about people back home. Perhaps better yet, invite them to think of people in both settings as a way to connect the dots between their current justice work and their life at home.
Community—and Communion—are never just acts we do for ourselves; they should always point us outward to love others more faithfully in the name of Jesus. Let’s close in prayer for those who need to experience the good news, both here in the community we’re serving or back at home. Let’s pray that the way we live—even the ways we eat together—might whet their appetites for Christ.
HAVE MORE TIME?
Here are some additional ideas for ways to make community meals more meaningful during your justice work:
- Make it a practice to gather in a circle and pray before meals. While this may seem like a simple thing, the symbol of the circle itself is important imagery of our unity in Christ. Alternate between holding hands, linking arms, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, sitting on the floor, and any other creative way you and your students can think of being together in a circle. Invite the Lord to bring deeper unity as you begin each meal this way, and point out to students the reason you make circles together.
- Occasionally assign seats or require that students sit next to someone new at a meal. While meals can be important downtime for students to hang with their closest friends, this can also inhibit deeper relationships from forming across group lines. If possible, plan at least a few (if not all) meals for students to intentionally eat with locals as well.
- If your meals are not already set up this way, consider involving students in preparing, serving, and cleaning up after each meal.
- If you usually eat in a private space as a team, consider going to a local restaurant or somewhere you can eat among others in the community. Or find a way to make and serve food for the church or ministry you are working with, as an expression of gratitude and solidarity with your hosts.
- Occasionally make new meal rules, like restricting use of hands during a meal so everyone has to be fed by someone else near them, or that each person can only use the hand that is opposite their normal preference.