But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. — Luke 14:10
In the modern West, our actions, on the whole, carry less symbolic significance than they once did. Once upon a time, shaking hands indicated that you weren’t carrying a weapon. Only the totally paranoid and LARPers who never break character still have that in mind when they shake hands now, but it is still a talking point when a footballer refuses to shake hands with an opponent after the match. Similarly, sharing meals with others doesn’t quite have the same gravity as it once did — our word ‘companion’ is has its origin as ‘one who breaks bread with another’, but I don’t think our modern eating habits would ever lead us to coin a word specifically for the people we eat with. Perhaps a word for whichever show we watch on our lunch breaks, dramacompanis, or something.
But perhaps the idea of meals symbolising and fostering friendship is not so foreign as we might think: high school movies and coming-of-age films give us a window into that old world of table fellowship. Take the 2004 masterpiece Mean Girls as an example. There are many rules that Cady must follow and adjust to in order to be part of the in-group, the plastics. There are many ways and places in which her membership is demonstrated, but the most significant point comes every lunchtime in the cafeteria. Keep the rules, you can sit with them, but wear sweatpants on a Monday, and you will find that discipline is exercised at the table.
And as ridiculous as it sounds, in a world where much of the symbolism in interactions has been lost or forgotten, Mean Girls helps us remember that to share a meal is to be part of a group, and no one wants to have to eat alone. When we share the Lord’s Supper together, we’re invited up to the top table, and given the right clothes — righteousness, humility, and love — to fit in. The Lord Jesus is himself the true host whenever we share the eucharist together, and in that invitation he demonstrates his welcome to us and his approval of us, and gives us a new group of people to eat with.
Perhaps if we were desperately trying to be relevant in 2004, we could have adapted Ms Norbury’s question as part of our liturgy. Rather than ‘How many of you have ever felt personally victimised by Regina George?’ we could ask ourselves before we eat ‘How many of you have ever felt personally honoured by the Lord Jesus Christ?’ We will then find that his invitation to the humble is always the same: ‘Friend, move higher, you can sit with us.’