“A meal is still a rite—the last ‘natural sacrament’ of family and friendship, of life that is more than ‘eating’ and ‘drinking.’” —Alexander Schmemann
Many cultures claim to be more adept “enjoyers” of food than others. There are some that possibly enjoy food too much or opt to enjoy the unhealthiest options possible. (I mean, the only way to make anything taste better is to fry it, right?) In fact, all cultures revolve around some sort of food consumption. The Checkers restaurant commercial has it right when they say, “You gotta eat.” It is an undeniable truth—in order for life to be sustained, we require sustenance. We all eat something. In fact, we must.
In the same vein, we all worship something. In fact, we must. We were designed to worship God, our Creator. Yet, for many, the object of worship is different (this, the Bible calls idolatry). People find themselves devoting their time, calendar, money, hopes, and dreams to worship something, because worshiping is simply what we do. As a young boy growing up in the South, with fried chicken and Sunday service, many times those two—food and worship—went hand in hand. The bulletin always featured a predictable liturgy (order of worship): songs to be sung, a sermon followed by an invitation, and a closing benediction of some kind. On the back of the bulletin was an invitation, “Dinner in the fellowship hall.” These two, worship and meals, were separated from one another on opposite sides of the bulletin—worship on one side, fellowship on the other—as if to communicate that they belong to two different categories. But, do they?
I fear that because we use the word worship to describe only what happens in the sanctuary, we have unwittingly programed ourselves to think that worship in the sanctuary does not continue in the fellowship hall. Don’t we typically advertise Sunday service as a “time of worship”? It’s a subtle thing, I know, but I believe it has a deep influence on the life of the church. It is often preached and sung that worship is more than a song, but our descriptions and practice often proclaim a very different message. Is worship only for when the church meets to sing and preach? Are sacraments only baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Could it be these things, sacraments and worship, are linked to one another and extend beyond church service times?
Our mindset of worship and sacrament—our sacramentality—needs to become much broader. Too often, worship is forced into a box that it does not fit. It is only songs sung during Sunday service, not the totality of our lives spent as living sacrifices. And, in the same way, sacraments are thought of with too narrow a definition, for they are much more than mere rites. Both worship and sacraments help to lift the opaque veil concealing the divine from our experience, and to render the connection between heaven and earth more transparent. In the kingdom of God, our connection to heaven is stronger than perhaps we realize in common everyday comings and goings. These sacraments go beyond ceremony or a rite we perform in a church service, and they are much more than mere symbolism. Our sacramentality is the way in which we commune with God and his people through both sacred rites and ordinary experience.
It that’s the case, then Christians can experience communion with God in every moment of our lives, making every ordinary moment a potential to experience his holiness. When I reflect on my time as a student at the University of Mobile, I remember that some of the sweetest times of praise and deepest conversations of faith happened around an ordinary meal. Experiences as a student from the classroom, chapel, plugging into the local church, intermural sports, and even meals all served in my spiritual formation. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)” and “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1Co 10:31).” Whether you are singing to God in praise or eating with friends in fellowship, it is all worship if it is done to the glory of God.
The Christian life is one of perpetual worship, a living sacrifice of praise. It is a life of sacrament, an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace. Humanity, whether it is acknowledged or not, hungers and thirsts for this very thing. We all desire to experience this mystery of true communion Augustine said it well, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Whether eating, drinking, singing, or preaching, the only true sacramentality is found in the transforming work of Christ, and only in Christ is found the meaning of everything.