by Tyson Stelzer
Fluoro lights flickered under the galvanised iron roof of the besserbrick shed at the bottom end of town. The floor was set with trestle tables, complete with disposable plates and plastic cutlery. The spit roast was firing. Men arrived with armloads of baguettes, women with giant containers brimming with salads and desserts.
It was dinnertime, to the roar of a hundred conversations, hoots of laughter, bad karaoke and so much wine.
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the tiny village in the middle of Champagne’s famed Côte des Blancs (area), is the home of Salon, the champagne house that makes just one cuvée and sells it for $700 a bottle. Just a moment away is Krug Clos du Mesnil, the most famous sparkling vineyard in the world. Its fruits sell for $2000 a bottle. Vineyard turf is never less than two million euros a hectare. I could hardly speak their language. I knew the names of just two people in the room. But I felt at home.
What if we spent more time sharing loaves and fishes with our neighbours than discussing theology? What if God is calling us to share the gospel in bread, wine and chocolate slice?
And that night I learnt something about church. When it comes to getting together over food and wine, I can’t help wondering whether God doesn’t have a higher purpose in mind.
Just take a look at Jesus’ social calendar. His first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding banquet.
Matthew 11: ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”’. Was Jesus a glutton and a drunkard? Of course not. But so vital was the ritual of eating and drinking with sinners for Jesus that he was mistaken for a glutton and a drunkard.
In Jesus’ culture, to eat and drink with somebody was to publicly extend to them acceptance, friendship, love. Jesus ate and drank with the most unlikely, disreputable and unholy candidates. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus in a tree, he said, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ We don’t know what was said that night, but we do know that before the end of it, Zacchaeus announced that he would turn his life around.
Matthew was a tax collector when Jesus arrived at his house for dinner. Before dessert was over, Matthew was a disciple.
The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he ate with tax collectors and sinners. They queried why he didn’t fast. They criticised his disciples for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus threw out their legalistic restrictions on what one can and cannot eat. And Jesus knew all about hospitality. When 5000 men plus women and children were hungry, Jesus fed them with five loaves and two fish. When the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, he cooked them a barbecue on the shores of Lake Galilee.
How did Jesus describe heaven? Like a wedding banquet and a great feast. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus said, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’. I don’t think it was any accident he chose bread and wine and the ritual of a meal as the way he communes with us. You see, I believe in a God who loves eating and drinking.
And he always has. Back in Israel’s history they put together a tent to show that God wanted to be with his people. It had a table. It had a pitcher of wine and the bread of the presence of God. In Psalm 23, God prepares a table to sit me down with my enemies and, in sharing a meal with them, he will affect reconciliation.
And it is about fun, too. Ecclesiastes 9:7: ‘Eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart’. You see, God loves eating and drinking. And he has set us up to love it, too. Of all the miraculous complexities of our bodies, scientists tell us that smell and taste are the deepest mysteries of all. Not just that no-one knows how we smell, but that we should be able to do it at all. Scientists now believe that we can distinguish between one trillion different smells. God has engineered your nose as one of the most complex mechanisms in all of creation. Why? Because God loves eating and drinking. But what if it’s more than that? What if our open invitation to our homes could create connections with neighbours…