If you’ve been a Southern Baptist for any length of time, you most likely have a copy of a church cookbook in your pantry. I have one from the church in my youth days in Savannah, Georgia, and one from my mother-in-law’s church (she happened to be Methodist, but they love their church cookbooks too!). I have a few copies of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home cookbooks by Linda Adams (compiled from many church members’ recipes across Arkansas). Not only do Baptist church ladies have some great recipes. As far back as I can remember, when I think about the women who have modeled true hospitality, I see a reflection of the servant-hearted mind of Christ.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the significance of “the table.” One reason is that our church is compiling a cookbook for the first time as a way to commemorate our 75th anniversary. As the recipes have been coming in, I find myself thinking of all the ways I’ve seen these precious church ladies come together to feed people—not only in times of celebration and fellowship, but also in times of difficulty and sorrow. Over the 28 years we have been part of our church, I have seen meal after meal, gathering after gathering, conversation after conversation happen around a table as a way of ministering to needs and for the benefit of building up the church as commanded in Ephesians 4.
As I began to reflect upon the significance of the table, the Lord impressed upon me that He was the originator of the table. We see the establishment of five major feasts in the Old Testament, described to be communal, commemorative, theological, and typological:
“Israel’s festivals were communal and commemorative as well as theological and typological. They were communal in that they drew the nation together for celebration and worship as they recalled the common origin and experience of the people. They were commemorative in that they kept alive the story of what God had done in the exodus and during the sojourn. They were theological in that the observance of the festivals presented the participants with lessons on the reality of sin, judgment, and forgiveness, on the need for thanksgiving to God, and on the importance of trusting God rather than hoarding possessions. They were typological in that they anticipated a greater fulfillment of the symbolism of the feasts.” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
Other Old Testament references to the table include King David inviting the crippled Mephibosheth to dine at his table (2 Samuel 9). We see the beautiful reference to the Lord as Shepherd, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5).
The significance of the table continues in the New Testament as we see Jesus, the Bread of Life Himself, dining at several table settings, interacting with people who were in need of salvation, as he offered friendship, teaching, truth, and restoration. (Luke 5, 7, 11; John 12, 13).
As the early church grew and Christianity began to spread, we continue to see the significance of the table as a means of gathering together. Acts 2:46 tells us “…breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” Here’s where I think we can miss the point of the table. In the very next verse of this text, the writer of Acts reveals the purpose behind the table: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
As women who practice hospitality, might we reconsider not only the significance of the table, but also its Gospel purpose? We can fall into the habit of gathering for fellowship alone, to the exclusion of sharing His truth and the life changing hope of the Gospel.
As someone who trains and equips women’s ministry leaders in the local church, I have noticed the re-gathering of so many women’s groups around tables, studying God’s Word and sharing in the feast of His truth together. It is my sense that after the last couple of years of isolation, disconnection, and challenging days, women are hungry for community, but also for the Bread of Life and the Living Water of Jesus. This week a friend shared on social media about a woman who had come to know Jesus at their women’s Bible study event as they sat together … around the table, talking about the Lord and the good news of the Gospel message.
How exciting it would be if our time together around the table revolved around God’s truth and centered on the good news of the Gospel!