Picture this: You’re hungry. The kids are hungry. Nobody wants to cook dinner tonight. So, what do you do? Naturally, you load up the car and then argue about which fast food restaurant to go to. After everyone is thoroughly annoyed with each other, you take charge and make an executive decision. You pull your car into the drive-thru line, wait for the five cars ahead of you, then finally make it to the menu board. Everyone shouts out their individual orders, a fuzzy voice babbles some numbers through the speaker, and you move forward to the first window. You wait, pay, wait, then collect your food at window number two. The food would get cold if you waited until you got home, so everyone rummages through the bags and pulls out their food. The car goes silent as everyone stares at their laps, eating their meals as you drive home with a burger in hand.
Drive-thru meals are one of the most individualistic things we’ve ever invented! Don’t get me wrong, they are incredibly efficient and some days they’re just plain necessary. But they certainly are not a community-based, life-giving form of mealtime.
Now picture this alternative scenario: You’re hungry. The kids are hungry. And good thing because you’re almost ready to head over to your neighbor’s house for dinner. Although, you’re a little worn out already. You’ve spent the last hour preparing the best mashed potatoes around. And now you’ve got to fix your hair and then get the kids out the door. You ring the bell of your neighbor’s house and a friendly face welcomes you in. Seated around the dinner table, you catch up with everyone’s latest news, ask questions, crack jokes, and pass the mashed potatoes around more than once. You leave dinner feeling energized by connecting with friends and look forward to the next shared meal.
Do you feel the difference between these two mealtime scenes? Certainly not all dinner parties are picture-perfect, life-giving, delicious-mashed-potatoes, community-building experiences, but I hope that we all know that feeling of refreshment after having spent time with people we are close to.
When I read Hebrews 10:19-25, I picture some kind of gathering at a home. The language suggests a family-like atmosphere. The author says that Jesus creates “a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God … And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” In this case, it is the Temple—the house of God—that Jesus opens to us. Where a curtain once covered the doorway to the Most Holy Place, keeping people out, Jesus becomes that curtain and instead invites us in. Through Jesus, God has sent out invitations to join him at the grandest table, and the masses are pouring through the doorway.
God’s invitation is not a drive-thru meal. It is not about an efficient transaction; it is not about quickly collecting something and driving off. If you (like me) attended or hosted any drive-by birthday parties during the pandemic, then you know full well that it is not the same. It’s weird! The good news is that God’s invitation is for something much deeper than that. God invites us to draw near to him and in doing so we pass through a doorway into a room full of people making the same journey toward the good God who invited us all.
The church is what is formed on the other side of that doorway. Those of us who have RSVP’d to God’s invitation through Jesus are gathered around the table. Though we approach the table from different angles—each with our own backgrounds and stories—we take our seats around a common table for a shared meal.
Of course, the life of the church is not always a happy dinner party. Sometimes we bump elbows with the people sitting next to us. Sometimes we have different understandings of table manners. Sometimes we are excluded from conversations. Sometimes we are the ones talking over others. Life in the church really does require perseverance. Being a community—being a family—is beautiful, but not easy. Like many family meals, there will be times of disagreement and debate. But there will also be times of great joy. As we sit around the table, let us continually “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” and encourage one another (Heb. 10:24-25). And when we rise to leave the table and put on our coats, may we leave feeling energized having connected with friends and look forward to the next shared meal around the Lord’s table.