Over the Thanksgiving holiday my wife made dressing for our celebratory feast and declared, “I think I finally got it like my mom’s and grandmothers!” I think her dressing is fantastic each year, but her assertion reveals that the dish she was making is woven into a larger story. Her Thanksgiving dressing is connected to people, place, and it has a history. One of my sons said something about the “stuffing” she made, and my wife shot a bless-your-heart look in his direction and said, “It is dressing. I am from Alabama, I’ve never made stuffing in my life.” In the Prince house, our story means that not all Thanksgiving dishes are created equal.
It is striking that the culmination of God’s redemptive plan in the consummated kingdom of Christ is a meal. The celebration of the triumph of the kingdom of Christ is described as the marriage supper of the Lamb, a feast that involves activities as routine as eating and drinking (Rev 19:6-9). This triumphant meal is the goal of all history and is repeatedly anticipated in the biblical revelation of redemptive history (Is 25:6-8, Matt 22:1-14, 25:10, 26:26-29, Luke 15:15-24). The meal is a part of a story of the kingdom of Christ and involves God’s redeemed people in the place called a new heaven and new earth. It is also a meal for which we experience constant echoes in our daily enjoyment of meals that nourish and satisfy us.
One biblical description of the ministry and mission of Jesus is that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus is the crucified Messiah who commands his followers to remember him and his kingdom by eating and drinking a communion meal together. In our communal celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we enjoy the gifts of creation together as redeemed image bearers through the atoning sacrifice of Christ in the presence of God. The incarnate, crucified, and risen Christ gives his people physical stuff, bread and wine, to symbolize his ministry and kingdom mission (Matt 26:26-29, 1 Cor 11:23-29). We are to take the bread and eat (signifying his body for us) and to drink the fruit of the vine (signifying the new covenant in his blood). Obedience to this command involves our hands, mouth, taste buds, teeth, and tongue. All of this inescapably involves people, place, and history. We are to “Do this in remembrance” of Christ until he returns to consummate his kingdom (Matt 26:29, 1 Cor 11:26, Rev 19:6-9).
The Scripture consistently calls God’s people to an earthy, real-world, embodied spirituality. But, there are in every age those who try to sever the relationship between the spiritual and physical. In the past, this has been referred to as Gnosticism; but, the attempt to separate spirituality from the material and physical is less of a codified system and more of a constant threat that clouds and confuses Christians and Christian groups in every era. Spirituality becomes a quest for secret knowledge and a higher life experience that makes one a cut above others and often results in an image-focused identity. Spirituality, divorced from the physical and material, views creation, embodiment, people, and personal accountability as problems and obstacles to be overcome. Spirituality becomes a utopian quest, and the result is that its highest expression is found in escaping this world and its inherent limitations of people, place, and history.
With an abstract, utopian spirituality, every day is experienced as if there had been no yesterday and thoughts of tomorrow are oriented toward escaping the messiness and challenges of the real world before us. “If only” becomes one of the primary refrains of Christian living and service. If only: things were different, I lived somewhere else, I had a different spouse, I had more gifts, and so on. In Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, he is combating those in the church who were advocating a similar kind of destructive higher life, an elitist spirituality. His answer to them was “the word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). Paul declared that he was determined to see the entire world through the lens of the crucified Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (1 Cor 2:2). Flesh and blood mattered to Christ and it must matter to us.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and said, “This is my body which is for you” (1 Cor 11:24), he was referring to all of you—both body and spirit. When was the last time you thanked God for your body? Many Christians disassociate their body from their spirituality. They view their body only in terms of beauty and sensuality and most often see their body as a problem and not a gift for which Christ died. Often, we only think of our bodies and mention them to complain about them. This is a strange attitude for those who trust in a divine Savior who became flesh and dwelt among us. Our bodies allow us to connect with and serve one another and when we dishonor our own body we tend to devalue others as well.
When Jesus appeared sovereignly unrecognized to a pair of disciples who were dejectedly leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion and heading to Emmaus, he taught them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He vanished from their sight after breaking bread with them and revealing that he was Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead. He reappeared to his disciples as they were talking about him and they became frightened thinking they had seen a spirit. Jesus clarifies that he was embodied and not simply a spirit. He said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Then suddenly, in the midst of these amazing cosmic events, Jesus said something very earthly, “Have you anything here to eat?” And the text says they gave him broiled fish “and he took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:42). Why is this recorded here? It seems almost out of place, but it is not.
Few things are more ordinary and real world than hunger and eating a meal. Jesus goes to great lengths to connect his resurrection to flesh and bones through an event as mundane as eating broiled fish. He was not simply resurrected as a spirit but proves the corporeal nature of his resurrected body by eating broiled fish. Immediately after this meal, Jesus again teaches them that all of the Scriptures are about him and gives his disciples a mission in the real world of flesh and bones:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you” (Luke 24:46-49).
Creation, people, place, and history are not the problem; they are the strategic setting for us to make much of Christ in our daily lives. Our hope is not found in escaping our body or this world but in living every bit of our real world lives to the glory of God in Christ in the already of his kingdom. Your story in uniquely situated in a community of people at a particular place in the world. In Christ, our story is woven into the story of Christ and we are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Our real world flesh and bone existence in some place on the world map is our providentially given strategic opportunity to live for Christ. Thus Paul exhorts, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). Your ordinary life is an extraordinary gift from God to serve him by loving God and neighbor.
Tasting and seeing that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8) involves turkey and dressing, ball games, cleaning house, paying bills, laughter, tears, and even broiled fish, and so does the mission of preaching the gospel to the nations. We do not glorify God or call others to glorify him by compartmentalizing our lives and attempting to sever what we deem spiritual from the physical and material world we actually inhabit. When Jesus eats broiled fish and then directs his disciples to their global gospel mission, he is shaping how they are to understand their mission. We do not minister in an abstract, utopian, spiritual realm with secret knowledge and neither does anyone else. Rather, we live in a fallen messy world as strategically and uniquely placed gospel witnesses. How strategic and unique? Nobody else in the cosmos can be you surrendered to Jesus pointing to Christ in every aspect of your real word life of people, place, and history.