In the second half of the book, Sweet develops the table theme in three vital areas of life: home, church, and the world. When the table is made central in the home, ideally two things should happen. First we are invited to come out of hiding and live in the truth of who we are. As Sweet writes, “The Bible is not about ‘God, where are you?’ The Bible is God calling out, ‘Adam, Eve, and all my children, where are you?’ God isn’t hiding from us. We are hiding from God” (93). Second, the home table is the primary place where we all learn and develop our tastes. But not just our tastes in food, all of our tastes in life. As we develop different tastes around the table, those differences are not meant to exclude and shut down conversation, but serve as an invitation and beginning to conversation.
The second place where the table plays a central role in the Christian life is in the church, most notably through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But again so much more as we continually find Jesus in homes and at tables with people throughout the Gospels. Earlier in the book, Sweet writes, “Jesus ate all kinds of food around all kinds of tables in all kinds of places with all kinds of people” (13, emphasis added). When Jesus is invited to dine with us, we quickly realize that not only is he a guest but he is also host, but more importantly, “when Jesus is at table, the best thing on the table is not something you can finger, fork, or stick. The best thing on the table is the presence of God” (109). As we learn to feast on and digest God’s presence with us around the table, we become more and more like him in everything and everyway. As St. Augustine wrote, ventriloquizing Christ, “You will not change me into you like the food of your flesh, but you will be changed into me” (quoted on page 113). Becoming more like Christ around the table empowers us to say to others the words Christ has said to each of us time and time again, “In feeding you, I forgive you.”
Finally, Sweet discusses how the church and, more specifically, believers might prepare a table before the world, namely those outside the faith. As we grow more and more comfortable at the table in the home and the table in the church, we can take that into the world. Not in a condescending or arrogant manner, like we have it all figured out, but in a way that invites conversation among differents but equals. But more important than dialogue and conversation, as we as Christ followers and Christ storytellers learn to set a table before others who might disagree with us vehemently or before others who might be our enemies in the strongest sense possible, we demonstrate the love of Christ in concrete, face-to-face ways, and may I add, provocative ways.
I have mixed feelings about From Tablet to Table. I think Leonard Sweet has some great thoughts throughout the book, ideas that have helped me as I continue to think through and develop my theology of the table. However, I also was frustrated at times with the book as I did not sense Sweet developing a clear line of reasoning. I would sometimes finish a chapter and think, “I am pretty sure I understand what he was trying to do in that chapter, if I draw out his reasoning myself, but it was not overly clear.” The book sometimes read like it was quickly written just for the sake of getting published. For instance, a number of times throughout the book, he would reference an idea and attach an endnote to it. When I would turn to the endnote, I would find it to say, “See my book….” At times I understand that this is necessary because of space limitations, but nor do I want to feel like I need to read all of Sweet’s books to understand the points he is making throughout this one. This is the first book of Sweet’s I have read, so maybe this is his natural style and his is one that I have a harder time reading.
All that said, I am still happy to have had the chance to read From Tablet to Table. Sweet adds to the ongoing dialogue Christians are beginning to have about the importance of the table in the life of each believer and the community as a whole.
As Sweet remind us, we would do well to remember God’s first command to humans and God’s last command to humans: Eat and drink freely (Gen. 2:16; Rev. 22:17)!
Andrew Camp is the sous chef at Silver Restaurant in Park City, UT. He and Claire, his wife, are active members at Mountain Life Church, also in Park City. He also holds a Masters degree in spiritual formation and soul care from Talbot Seminary and occasionally blogs at christianepicurean.wordpress.com.