Tea for Three: Meals & the Triune God

September 01, 2015

Tea for Three: Meals & the Triune God

Meals: Ordinary or extraordinary?

Very often my mealtimes are fairly ordinary events. For example, breakfast this morning consisted of cornflakes and toast; hardly what you might call extraordinary. But then again should I expect any more? Meals aren’t always meant to be exciting and thrilling are they? Perhaps on special occasions, yes, but otherwise they form part of the ordinary routine of daily life. Or is there more to meals?

Throughout the Gospels meals take a central place in the ministry of Jesus. And they are very often far from ordinary. Over a meal Jesus shows grace to the sinner (Lk 5:27-32) and generosity to the empty-handed (Lk 9:10-17); he challenges social customs (Jn 13:1-17) and condemns the religiosity of the self-righteous (Lk 11:37-54); all while consuming his breakfast, lunch or dinner. Indeed meals form such a central place in the ministry of Jesus that he is accused of being a ‘glutton and a drunkard’ (Lk 7:34). Meals with Jesus are oftentimes extraordinary.

In recent years various authors have explored this aspect of the Gospels—the oftentimes extraordinary meals with Jesus.[1] By considering his life and example, suggestions have been made about how we today might dine more intentionally. If you like, a Christological theology of meals has been served up.

However, what if we were to consider meals in light of the whole triune Godhead, not just one member? If something can be discerned about the significance of meals by looking at them through a Christological lens, how much more a trinitarian lens? What if we were to consider a trinitarian theology of meals?

The starting point—A relationship of love

But where might we begin such a theology of meals? Perhaps by considering a defining feature of the trinitarian God; that He is three persons eternally in a relationship of love.

The Christian God is not a monad. He is three persons. And these three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—for all eternity have been ‘united in love’.[2] It is a relationship of enjoyment and pleasure and love. Perhaps the clearest expression of this eternal relationship of love is seen at the baptism of Jesus where all three members of the Trinity are explicitly mentioned. Here the Spirit descends on the Son as the Father speaks from heaven of His delight in His Son: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22, emphasis mine).

An inescapable and defining characteristic of the triune God is that the three persons of the Godhead have for all eternity existed in a relationship of love. And this has important implications for humanity.

Made for relationships

When this triune God makes humanity he makes it ‘in his image’ (Genesis 1:26). You and I, male and female, are made in the image of God. We bear and reflect something of what He is like. And a key aspect of His nature that we bear (and should be seeking to reflect) is that we are made for loving relationships. Because we are made in the image of a God who is inherently relational, we too are inherently relational beings. It follows then that all loving relationships ultimately find their starting point in God. He came up with the idea! All the goodness, and wonder, and beauty, and pleasure, and love that we can experience in relationships finds its source in Him, the God who is three persons eternally united in a relationship of love.

Because of this, theologian Broughton Knox sees relationships as being ‘ultimate reality‘. ‘God is ultimate reality, and is the ground of all other reality, and yet God is not a single monad or an impersonal absolute, but God is relationship’.[3] It follows then that ‘the doctrine of the Trinity…tells us that ultimate reality is personal relationship’.[4] Personal relationships ‘are the most real things that are’.[5] In the light of a triune God in whose image we have been made, to be a truly real person is to be a person in relationship with others. To live otherwise is to contradict reality. To choose an individualistic life over a life of relationships is to choose a life of un-reality. Individualism is un-real.

For Christian people, then, seeking to honour this triune God of relationships, the pursuit of strong, healthy and vibrant relationships of love will be no small thing. Rather, the fostering and flourishing of such loving relationships will be pursued with a particular fervour and passion. Not only because it will mean that we live a more truly real life, but also because the pursuit of such relationships will be an act of worship. It will honour the God who has made us to be people of loving relationships, and who intended that as His image bearers we might reflect this well in our lives. A life filled with relationships should be a distinctive and observable characteristic of the Christian person.

The Trinity and meals

But what does all this have to do with meals? Simply this: if to be truly real is to be people in relationship, then we ought to be pursuing daily opportunities to remind ourselves of, and reflect this reality. And mealtimes provide easy, daily opportunities to do this.

Reminding ourselves

Relationships matter because they are inherent to the Godhead. When we relate to others over a meal table, or a picnic blanket, that act reminds us of this truth. The pleasure, and the enjoyment, and the friendship experienced remind us that relationships are valuable; that they are part of what it means to be truly real. We can be forgetful creatures. But three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) we have the opportunity to remind ourselves of part of what it means to be truly real. And we do it simply by inviting another to eat with us.

Reflecting reality

The enjoyment, pleasure and love which can be experienced when sharing a meal with others are a reflection of the enjoyment, pleasure and love found within the eternal relationship of love between the three members of the Godhead. Meals, then, can so easily become a reflection of, in the words of Knox, ‘ultimate reality’. And Christians are people who should be seeking to reflect something of the God in whose image they have been made. Again, daily meals provide an easy opportunity to reflect this, simply by sharing our meals with others. Conversely, only ever eating on your own fails to reflect reality. It is un-reality.

As we reflect this aspect of God in shared meals, our mealtimes can take on an added significance, a missional significance. Could it be that shared meals with unbelievers might give them a ‘taste’ of ‘ultimate reality’? Ultimate reality is not individualism, isolation or loneliness, but shared relationships. So as Christians share meals with unbelievers they give them a ‘taste’ of what is truly real—loving relationship with others. And as this ‘taste’ is experienced and enjoyed, it provides the forum in which to speak of the source of this good thing—the God who is three persons eternally united in love.

Extraordinary meals

So to return to where we began, perhaps each meal can be extraordinary, simply by inviting others to join us in it. Even that simple bowl of cornflakes and toast. Each meal can reflect ‘ultimate reality’, something of the nature of our triune God. And that, regardless of whether we are eating a feast or a simple sandwich, makes any mealtime extraordinary.

[1] For example Craig Blomberg, Contagious holiness: Jesus’ meals with sinners (IVP, 2005); Tim Chester, A meal with Jesus: Discovering grace, community and mission around the table (Crossway, 2011).

[2] I take this phrase from Glen Scrivener, and a prototype of his evangelistic presentation 3, 2, 1. http://three-two-one.org/ Accessed May 21, 2013.

[3] Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God: A character study of God in the Old and New Testaments (Lancer Books, 1988) p51.

[4] Ibid, p51.

[5] Ibid, p52.

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