Reflections on the “imago Dei”

By: Taylor Bell

8 minute read.

Gen 1:26-28a

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them … 

Ever since I was a young child, I’ve been enraptured by the question of meaning and existence. Where did us humans come from? And yet, even more important, why do we humans exist? I would lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling fan’s rotations, pondering the depths of the universe for the meaning of human existence. Indeed, I joined the million of other humans who have asked the same question for thousands of years.

Recently, the question of existence has plagued my soul if for no other reason than my own life journey has painfully made clear the human soul’s necessity for a coherent reason to live. To continue living, each of us needs an answer to the question “why do I exist?” That is, what is my reason for living? It is therefore inherently human to seek an answer to this existential question. Because if there is no why to my existence, then there is no reason or purpose to go on living. At this point, I can reasonably conclude by in nihilistically exclaiming, “What is the point in living?” (Is nihilism the loss of existential purpose?) At a fundamental level, we humans need to know why we exist, because this reason imbues our lives with meaning and purpose.

Which is why for the past several years I have been fascinated with the imago Dei. This theological phrase is Latin, and refers to Genesis 1:26-27 when God created humankind in God’s image. The imago Dei is, quintessentially, the Christian response to the existential question “why?” When humans ask “why do I exist?”, we Christians turn to the creation account of Genesis 1, honing in on verses 26-28. We were created in God’s image, to live in community and have families, and to be stewards of God’s creation. From the Christian perspective, this theology is the fundamental answer for why we exist. It is the essence of what it means to be human. 

And yet, at its root, the imago Dei is an interpretative mystery. Scholars are ultimately unsure what exactly the author of Genesis 1 meant when they wrote “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Despite the divine plurality implied in God saying, “Let us make humankind in our image,” which is intriguing for a monotheistic religion, it is currently impossible to know with precise accuracy what the imago Dei is. The reasons are (1), the imago Dei is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and (2) there is nothing prior to Genesis 1 that can give us any interpretative clues. These two reasons make exegeting the imago Dei impossible without assumptions and/or leaps of faith. We therefore understand that the imago Dei is our reason for being created and thus existence, but are unsure what this reason objectively and precisely is. It is a mystery.

As a pastor and theologian, I understand the imago Dei as a divine mystery. The imago Dei, our reason for existence, is a mystery rooted in God. Because when we allow ourselves to be completely honest before Scripture, we cannot avoid the truth that our human reasoning and devices are unable to make sense of it. Divine mysteries cannot be solved as riddles through rationality and intellect. Rather, they can only be understood through relationship with God. In our search for answers, divine mysteries nudge us closer to God by inviting us into practices and spaces of prayer, conversation, exploration, and vulnerability. They reveal answers, not as a book that presents the right answer, but through a relationship that instills breathes within us love and understanding. And perhaps this is the first way in which the imago Dei responds to our existential “why?” It draws us closer to our Creator, to the genesis of our existence, and in so doing roots us in the most fundamental relationship of our lives. 

Yet, in my personal experience, even in drawing closer to God, the existential “why” still remains unanswered. It is still a mystery. At least not answered in the way I want it to be. There is no angelic declaration proclaiming in a deep and kingly voice, “Taylor, this is why you were created, to fulfill this specific purpose.” There has been no gps voice saying, “In 1000 feet, turn right and your existential purpose will be on your left.” (Though comical to imagine). Rather, in faithfully journeying with the imago Dei’s holy mysteriousness, it deepens our experience of God’s love. That God created me, and you, and all of existence out of love. And I recognize that love is not mentioned as a motivator for God’s creativity in Genesis 1. But have you ever watched a master artisan create? Have you seen their intense focus, attention to detail, and hours upon hours of commitment. When a master artisan is creating, their creation can only be described as a labor of love. Or recall being in the presence of a newborn baby. There is an aura of wonder and love that always seem present — as though they are evidence of some transcendent and loving creativity. Perhaps then this is the second way the imago Dei responds to our existential “why?” In drawing us closer to God, it grounds our lives in God’s love for us, revealing our deepest reason for existing is to love and to be loved. Being made in God’s image means that we humans are created to share in God’s love.

Still, the question of particularity remains. What does the imago Dei mean for my life in particular? It is still a mystery. Talk of divine love sounds all good, but it is still largely abstract — especially when being written out in a blog post. We can universalize about God and divine love all we want, but the existential question of meaning is ultimately concerned with the concrete uniqueness of one’s life. Because how you share in God’s love will be different than me because you are a completely different person than me. Have you ever taken a moment to recognize that there has never been someone exactly like you in the past, nor will there ever be someone exactly like you in the future. Each of us are purposefully unique, endowed with entirely different histories, affinities, and gifts. Perhaps then this is the third way the imago Dei responds to our existential “why?” In drawing us closer to God, it reveals to us how each of us are uniquely created, and thus uniquely created to love and be loved. How you receive and share love is different than me because you are a different person. This is a clue into why you were created in God’s image. To love and be loved by the world in your own purposefully unique way. Perhaps the Christian language of calling and vocation comes down to this: you are called, your reason for existence, is to authentically love and be loved by the world.

If you doubt this truth, contemplate for a moment what your life is like when you are surrounded by love. Love from your significant other, from your family and friends, love from your workplace, and even love from your community? What is the quality of your life? Do you find yourself existentially pondering your purpose for living, or do you find yourself purposefully living? I believe the existential question of existence is most deeply asked when we are fundamentally unsure if we are loved. What a precarious and significant place to be. Because it is only through honestly asking the question that we are able to discover the depths of God’s love for us — and the depths to which we can love others. Because when we are completely honest in our questions before God and/or the universe, we are completely vulnerable to receiving the fullness of God’s mysterious response. A response known by its love.

The imago Dei means you are a beloved child of God, uniquely created by God to love and be loved. What this holy truth means for your life in particular is a divine mystery only you can discover. But its truthfulness means you are all that you have ever needed to be, because you were purposefully and uniquely created by God. This is grace: that you bear God’s fingerprints and love just because you exist. And if this divine love is what you seek, then all you need to do is stop, breathe, and rest in it. Because there is nothing you can do to earn or create it. For you were created within it. All you can do is open up, receive it, and share it in the most authentic way you know how. Go today in peace, knowing that your you exist because you are loved.

Why We Are So Excited About Covenant’s Life Is Calling Work

5 minute read

In January 2020, Covenant’s role in the Life is Calling Initiative will transition from research and project development to the implementation of the Ecosystem of Discernment. For each member of the Covenant Life is Calling Team, this work is deeply meaningful. Each of us hold personally compelling reasons to consistently gather for early morning meetings, offering time and energy to explore Christian calling here at Covenant. We want to communicate these reasons with you as an act of sharing why we are so excited, invigorated, and devoted to the Life is Calling Initiative and our own project: The Ecosystem of Discernment.

Please feel free to reach out to any of the team members if you have any questions.

Ann Carol Mann:

When I first read about the Life is Calling initiative, I immediately thought, “I want to be part of that.”  Since childhood I felt my life was important to God and I could find meaning and purpose in following God. Yes, this did lead to a sense of calling to ministry in the “churchy” sense, but in my years of not having a professional ministry position, I felt no less called and committed to using my gifts for ministry in the world.  What I hope will happen through the Ecosystem of Discernment, is anyone who finds their way to BCOC will find a path for discovering purpose, meaning, and for living their unique life in Christ through supportive community. How exciting it would be for someone such as a young adult living and working downtown seeking direction and fulfillment to find that BCOC is not asking them to just plug into what we’re already doing, but encouraging and empowering them to follow and serve God in their unique individuality. This discovery is not for maintaining the institution called BCOC, but for allowing us all to participate in God’s restoration agenda of making all things new in Christ.

Caroline Jansen:

A decade or so ago I caught up with an old teacher. I was feeling directionless when it came to discovering my calling in life. What I felt was failure, my inability to pick one path into some illusive vocation, my professor simply deemed made me a well-rounded person. I still remember that supportive hand on my shoulder, calling out something in my wrestling to be beautiful. It was a release and permission to live into the tension of both/and that has carried me through many seasons of discernment. The Life is Calling ecosystem carves out the essential space for soul nurturing exploration, play and creativity. It is the field upon which you can dig into yourself, meet in community, grow relationally, and flourish. What would your life be like if you were given that same affirming hand on the shoulder, to freely grow into who you are and who you are becoming? What could a system of support and resources dedicated to healing, growth, freedom to play, and empowerment to serve creatively do for the Church? When the Spirit is given freedom among us to move in its divine dance, what beautiful fruits will be harvested? This is why I am filled with excitement for the potential of the LIC Ecosystem.

Drexel Rayford:

I believe that when people align their lives with their deepest loves, they contribute to making the kingdom of God real in our world, living out the mind of Christ.  The ecosystem provides a safe, welcoming environment where people

  • can identify the barriers they’ve encountered which have kept them from living out of what they love;
  • identify and develop assets they possess which can remove those barriers and facilitate their living out of what they love;
  • provide assistance and encouragement to develop further skills for negotiating their life process;
  • all in the context of a supportive, affirming community of seeking believers.

Mike Martin:

The question put to me was, “why is Life is Calling work important?”  I was asked by Taylor if I would consider being a part of a small group that would be working on developing a grant proposal to address/investigate/be curiously mindful about the concept of “calling” in our church.  I was honored to be asked, for many reasons including wanting to find a new way to be involved.  Knowing little about where this would lead, I was curious and excited to see what would develop.

We have met numerous times as a committee, early coffee morning gatherings that have planted seeds which have birthed what we call “The Ecosystem of Discernment.”   This system, in short, is at its best designed to be a dynamic model/process for discerning and sustaining a “called way of life.”  We have named the physical space housing the Ecosystem “The Greenhouse.”  Let your imagination run wild with that metaphor!  As a physical space, the Greenhouse will be characterized by creativity, risk, discernment, faithfulness, dialogue, and community.

Why is this important to me?

-This is a dynamic tool to aid others in identifying ways to serve.

-This can be a process that generates ministry opportunities for our “church on the corner,” internally and externally.

-This can be a way to engage those who have not felt traditionally “called,” offering new ways of interpretation and taking action.

-This can be a gathering place that celebrates the arts in our church, and in the community.

-This can be a model that reaches the younger members of our church, an age group that is important to engage for our future.

Taylor Bell:

Our Life is Calling work is important to me because it’s about helping people live flourishing lives. A flourishing life is one of joy, goodness, and meaning. This is, quite simply, a life worth living. And as a pastor, I believe it is the life God intends for us to live. I hold fast to a theology which understands each person as lovingly and purposefully created by God, each born to live a meaningful life, and that such a life is lived by listening and responding to God’s voice in our lives. I am incredibly excited for the Ecosystem of Discernment because it is created to help each person to authentically live a flourishing life; a beautiful, joyous, meaningful, and good life. I can think of no greater task for the Church. Where Christ’s salvific love heals and redeems us, and the Church is called by God to be a Christ-centered community, the Ecosystem is about helping each individual discover how Christ’s love has uniquely shaped them to live a meaningful life. Living such a life is how we share the Gospel with the world, and how we experience the Gospel within ourselves. And this is our purpose as Christians.

The Gift of Thanksgiving: The Virtue of Gratitude

By: Taylor Bell

8 minute read

Every Thanksgiving Day[1] I am reminded again of an essential gift: gratitude. This past Sunday, I was reminded of the importance of gratitude as I had the privilege of leading our church’s Children’s Sermon. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I chose to focus on the Christian practice of gratitude. While Christians are not unique in valuing gratitude, what makes our practice “Christian” we root our gratitude in God’s creative and redemptive love. This means every act of gratitude begins with giving thanks to God. I emphasized this point as I held up slices of my favorite fruit: a fuji apple. I asked the children, “Who made the first ever apple tree?” “God!” And so, we gave thanks to God for creating this delicious apple. Yet God wasn’t the only one involved in our eating apples. There is also the farmer who picked the apple, the truck driver who delivered the apple, and the grocery employee who stocked the apple. And so, we reviewed and gave thanks for all these people too, whom without we wouldn’t be able to eat the apple. It seems simple. Mundane even. But as I concluded the Children’s Sermon, I was reminded once again that gratitude does not just happen. It is a choice and a practice, and so essential to a joyful and fulfilled life.

The ancient Greek ethicist Aristotle would describe gratitude as a virtue. A virtue is a character trait one develops through practice, and as one practices said virtue it becomes interwoven into one’s being.[2] For instance, as you practice the virtue of gratitude, you become a more gracious person. No longer must you remind yourself to practice gratitude, as it is now just a natural way of seeing and engaging the world. Some examples of other virtues are generosity, courage, truthfulness, and justice. Why is it important and worthwhile to define gratitude as a virtue? Because the essential lesson I’ve learned is that gratitude’s priceless gifts of contentment, joy, and serenity are only experienced after practicing gratitude for some time. It’s not until we’ve taught ourselves to make gratitude a way of life, not until we’ve cultivated gratitude as a virtue, that we discover how essential it is for living a joyful and wholehearted life.

There is a multitude of psychological research establishing this claim that gratitude is essential for a joyful life.[3] As a pastor, I articulate that gratitude is essential for a meaningful life because it re-centers our hearts and minds on God’s healing and sustaining love. Within the Christian tradition, all humans struggle with the inherent temptation that we are what we have—or don’t have. Our security and well-being become based upon our possessions, achievements, and titles. Our hearts are elated and soothed when we get the “thing” we’ve been pursuing. Yet quickly our attention focuses to the next “new” thing, and we become unsettled, discontent, and frustrated.

Renowned Alcoholics Anonymous speaker Bob E. described the alcoholic as a chronic malcontent.[4] “I am never tall enough. I am never handsome enough. My clothes are never good enough. The car is never expensive enough. I never earn enough money. I am never intelligent enough. … My boss never understands me enough. The house isn’t big enough. The sunshine isn’t bright enough.” I don’t think the dysfunction of being chronically malcontent is exclusive to the alcoholic. In our American culture, it seems to be a dysfunction we all share. And just as the virtue of gratitude is integral to 12-Step Recovery, so to do I believe that gratitude is essential for our own healing.

There is a woundedness many of us carry due to the lie that we will never be enough without this “thing.” We have ignored and neglected genuine love as we’ve recklessly pursued the “thing” we falsely believed will provide us security, safety, and well-being. Gratitude is a powerful virtue because it helps us heal from this woundedness. Because, through its daily practice we come to see and experience the truth of the infinite ways we are lovingly cared for. Because, gratitude centers our hearts and minds on the ways God has and is providing for us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The prayer of thanksgiving for the fuji apple above reminded me of this truth. God didn’t just create the apple tree. God also created people who work hard to connect all us to food—our God-created source for nourishment and sustenance. When I sit back and see this reality through the lens of gratitude, I cannot help but be thankful. I cannot help but realize that God has been taking care of me in profound ways I both know and will never know. That God has never forgotten about me. That I can relax and be at peace, because a power greater than myself is at work in the world taking care of me, you, and all of us. That I no longer need to doggedly pursue some “thing” and keep neglecting such genuine love.

Therefore, it’s important to daily practice gratitude. Pastor emeritus Sarah Shelton had in her office a basket full of small notebooks. Confused, I asked her one day about them. While offering one to me, she termed them her “gratitude notebooks.” She said that practicing gratitude is important yet difficult. We need something tangible upon which we can write what we are grateful for each day, so that in difficult times we can remind ourselves of all the things we are grateful for. Her instructions then were to write down three things you are grateful for in that moment. There are only two requirements. (1) You must be honest. You can be grateful for anything, the morning sunlight, the smell of roasting coffee, or your child so long as you are honest! (2) You can only write down something once. To repeat is to cheat. This second requirement is hard, but it challenges us to realize we often have more to be grateful for than we realize. And so, I’ve carried that notebook in my bookbag every day since. I may not write in it every day, but it is a symbol reminding me to daily practice the virtue of gratitude.

Now it is imperative to clarify that gratitude as Christian virtue does not elide over real pertinent needs in our lives and communities. As a Christian virtue, gratitude is not as Karl Marx related, an “opiate of the masses.” Rather, genuine gratitude keeps us planted in God’s love even amidst the real trauma of our pain and suffering. Gratitude is not a Pollyanna optimism of ignoring the reality of suffering by focusing on what is pretty and delightful. Nor is gratitude about finding the silver lining amidst life’s difficulties. Sometimes, there just is no silver lining and all we can do is our best to get through it. Gratitude demands honesty if it is to be real. Like Job, Jeremiah, and the Psalms, an honest faith means it is okay and faithful to get angry with God when we suffer. But an honest faith likewise means we also cannot forget the ways God has taken care of us amidst our suffering. If we believe that God’s love is true, and that God’s love is integral to healing and wholeness, then gratitude is an essential virtue amidst life’s darkness. And in so doing, gratitude as virtue becomes an act of faith. Now, gratitude in reminding us of all that God has done in our lives, anchors us in the real Christian hope that God will continue to take care of us, especially amidst our pain and suffering.

Yet gratitude as Christian virtue is not intended solely for us as individuals. I was taught this blessing from a good friend, “And God, bless the hands who’ve made it possible for us to eat this meal.” It was this blessing which anchored the Children’s Sermon as it reminds me that gratitude is as communal as it is individualistic. That is, gratitude as Christian virtue is concerned about others too. It is as though in giving thanks to God, God has redirected my awareness to all the people I have to be thankful for. Perhaps then, gratitude is an essential virtue because it helps us to see and celebrate the other. We transition from seeing others as “other” to seeing them as people we are deeply connected to, dependent upon, and grateful for. Here is why gratitude is not individualistic: gratitude is only gratitude when it is expressed to another, be it God or a person. This reality implies relatedness. Perhaps the wholesome power of gratitude is its knack for helping us recognize all the ways we are connected to others and the world; to help us see that we are not alone; that we are interwoven into relationships that form a community. In our country, where we are succumbing more and more to xenophobia, or the fear of the other, gratitude is an essential practice in helping us become more hospitable, loving, and just.

Therefore, this Thanksgiving and afterward, you are invited to choose and practice gratitude. It will not always be easy; we can always find a reason not to be thankful. But this is why it is a choice. So choose gratitude. Share it with others. And if you ever get lost just remember this prayer: “God thank you for this meal and bless the hands who’ve made it possible. Amen.”

[1] In reflecting on the “gift of Thanksgiving,” I recognize the need for historical honesty. The history of Thanksgiving is complicated, contentious, and messy. Much of this colonial holiday hides our history of war, displacement, and genocide against Native Americans that happened before and after the celebrated Thanksgiving meal in 1621 between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. (For more information, check out this Business Insider article and this New York Times article) As an act of honesty, compassion, and justice we Christians need to collectively acknowledge and address this history. However, this reflection is not intended to address this need. In an effort to respect the integrity and needs of such an accounting, I will not be engaging it here.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.



Thank You!

By Rodney Franklin


We are in the season of giving as we prepare for Stewardship Sunday. What a wonderful way to say thank you to God for all of God’s blessings and God leading us as a congregation to be not only a house of prayer for all people but also a church ever seeking to meet the needs of those we serve inside and outside of the walls of God’s house. God has been so good and we can never stop saying THANK YOU!

We must also say thank you to members of the congregation for sharing not only your time and talents but also your treasure. Your financial gifts fuel the ministry of the church that help us make a difference in the lives of those who need help with those financial matters that need immediate attention. Your financial gifts support the ministerial and lay staff of the church. Your financial gifts help us partner with organizations in the community who are making positive change in the area of food security, clothing, and political advocacy. Your financial gifts support our denominational, alliance partnerships and overseas ministry relationships. Thank you for making Baptist Church of the Covenant a recipient of what God has blessed you with so that we can continue having a transforming ministry presence in the Birmingham community.

As Proverbs 3:9 reminds us, “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest.” We again say thank you as we honor the Lord on Stewardship Sunday with our pledge cards as we prepare to build the, “Bridge to the Future.”

Emma Berthiaume and Benjamin Burge’s words on the importance of Bread’s Offering of Letters

Every Fall, we at Baptist Church of the Covenant partner with Bread for the World in their Offering of Letters campaign. Each year, Bread for the World focuses on a certain aspect of domestic or international food policy in an effort to eradicate global hunger. While the goal is large, it is not impossible as great strides have been made over the past 30 years. Our youth Emma Berthiaume and Benjamin Burge share a few words on why they chose to serve on BCOC’s Bread for the World Team and why the annual Offering of Letters is so important.

From Emma Berthiaume:

I choose to be on the Bread for The World team so that the hungry across the world can get enough food for themselves, and we can make that happen. I believe that we can make a difference and ” leave our footprints in the sands of time.” I know that with even the small action of a smile or holding the door open can turn someone’s day or week or year or even life around. It’s easy to look at a huge issue like hunger and say, “Oh well, I guess that’s too bad, I can’t make a difference.” But we can’t give up so easily and just become overwhelmed with the huge problems. If we all come together, we can become stronger together. That’s why I choose to be on Bread for The World.

From Benjamin Burge:

I joined the Bread for The World team because I can go just out of my house and find someone who needs food and help but it’s just one person. By joining I can work with others and help thousands of people all around the world.

In speaking about God’s Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah once proclaimed: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isa 11:6-9, NIV). May our own youth’s faith inspire and lead us as we strive together to answer Jesus’ call to feed the hungry.

BCOC’s Offering of Letters concludes on Sunday, November 24th. You are invited to write letters and turn them at worship. If you have not written your letters and wish to do so, contact Taylor Bell ( for a Letter Writing Packet.

Trunk or Treat 2019

trunk or treat.frank and nancy.2015October 31
6:00 – 7:30 pm

It’s almost Halloween and while a lot of Christians have mixed feelings on this creepy holiday, at BCOC, we treat Halloween as one of those opportunities to share wonderful hospitality every year. It’s our goal to inject some fun, light, and kindness into our neighborhood.

The question, “What are you gonna be this year?” makes me wonder: What would Jesus be for Halloween? As we prepare to host Trunk or Treat, think about this:
How would Jesus engage our neighbors on this particular night of the year?

  1. Jesus Would Be Welcoming.

Not only would he have the porch light on, but he wouldn’t wait for you to ring the doorbell! Jesus would be standing at the door waiting to greet every trick or treater who came by. Jesus lived a life that was radically welcoming; he even welcomed the people he wasn’t supposed to welcome. If Jesus were to be living in our culture, his house would be the most welcoming house on the entire block.

  1. Jesus Would Be Radically Hospitable.

He wouldn’t leave the candy in a bucket on the doorstep, and he wouldn’t be one of those folks who just drops a piece of candy in your bag and mumbles “have a nice night.” Instead, Jesus would make sure that your encounter with him– however short– would have you walking away feeling cheerful and good about yourself.

  1. Jesus Would Be Generous.

I’ve never heard of anyone more generous than Jesus. He joined humanity– not to be served, but to do the serving. He sets the standard for generosity. Jesus’s house is where all the kids would go because they’d know he gave out the ‘good’ candy.  We may not know all our neighbors around us, but Halloween is a night they all come to us.

Let’s be the most welcoming, generous, and cheerful House on the block! Below are some ways you can be involved at Trunk or Treat. Volunteers arrive between 4:30 – 5:30pm to set up.

Sign up online.

  • Decorate your trunk OR create a small “carnival” type game in or beside your trunk… Here are some EASY ideas: (more on Pinterest) We have ready-made games here at BCOC. Just ask. Other popular stations have been: Fortune-telling, face-painting, temporary tattoos, making balloon animals, corn hole. Bring enough candy to get started. Greeters will walk around and refill your supply!
  • Offer hospitality by giving away treat bags and tickets for concessions – 3 per guest.
  • Greeters will walk the grounds greeting guests. They will replenish candy at popular spots and help guide guests to the restroom facilities at the rear of the Ministry Center. Be in costume for this if you like, or just wear something comfortable (like a BCOC shirt!).

Sign up online!

Communion Began as Supper. What’s this got to do with Food Policy?

By: Taylor Bell

5 Minute Read

For Baptist Church of the Covenant, October 20th is Bread for the World Sunday. We hold this annual service in partnership with Bread for the World, a faith-based advocacy organization that works for better domestic and international food policy. Their central concern is those who are chronically hungry and malnourished. Each year, Bread hosts a national campaign inviting their partner churches to write their federal legislators advocating for certain food policies. This year, the ask is to advocate for funding that supports global nutrition. We partner with Bread because we believe hunger and malnutrition are curable social ills, and good public policies are essential steps to curing them.

In preparing for Bread for the World Sunday, I have been exploring the Biblical reality that Communion began as a meal. All four Gospels and Paul refer to it as the Lord’s Supper. We in the South know a thing or two about supper. It’s what most people call dinner, it’s a family meal, and it doesn’t start until everyone is seated at the table. Yet, though communion is practiced in diverse ways throughout the world, it is predominantly observed as eating a tiny morsel of bread and drinking a teensy sip of wine or grape juice. I am not saying that the ways Communion has evolved are bad or non-Scriptural. But where supper implies a meal where all are fed, physically, emotionally, and communally, what does it mean for us that Communion began as supper?

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians offers us some answers. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 Paul admonishes the Corinthian church’s rich members for reducing Communion from a holy communal meal to an elite social gathering. In 1st century CE Corinth, it was proper social custom that a dinner party begin with high-status individuals arriving early for the best food and wine, and then lower status individuals arrive later for left overs. It was this social custom the church was practicing when Paul laments, “When you come to together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.”[1] According to Paul, the high crime is when the Corinthian Christians practice normal social convention, they defiled Communion by reducing it to an exclusive dinner party. For Paul, Communion is a communal meal that embodies Christ’s unconditional and powerful love for us. Communion is therefore a holy supper, and as holy supper it implies that all who come hungry have a right to leave fed. Fed physically, emotionally, communally, and spiritually.

I can hear the Corinthians grumbles now. “But Paul, this is normal. There’s no reason to get so upset, this is just how we do things.” Normal for society, yes. But normal for the Gospel, no. For Paul, Christ’s love doesn’t care about social conventions, or what’s normal, or how things are usually done. Rather, Christ’s love cares about people and their real lives. This means Christ cares more about people’s well-being and nourishment than our social conventions. Yes, Jesus cares more deeply about whether you’ve eaten and if your food is nutritious than if you’re dressed appropriately for church or sitting in your proper seat at the dinner party. Paul’s lesson for the Corinthians and us is that the Gospel is proclaimed when all Christians gather around a large dinner table to share a holy supper. Holy because it embodies Christ’s unconditional love for everyone. And because of this love there must also always be a few empty seats for any visitors arrive hungry, because Christ had a way about including everybody at the dinner table. Even those who weren’t like him. So, here’s an empty seat for you, have some bread and wine (or juice), get your fill, and know that you are always welcomed at this table. Normal for society, no. But normal for the Gospel, yes!

It seems then we cannot be Christian and at the same time be okay with hunger and malnutrition in the world. Or rather, we cannot celebrate the Communion Supper while at the same time neglecting our hungry brothers and sisters. Because for Paul, the Communion Supper becomes just food when we just eat the bread and drink the juice to remember Christ. For to remember Christ is to remember his love and service for the poor, hungry, and oppressed. If the Gospel is a liberating and nourishing good news, then the Communion Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s love and a divine clarion call to end hunger and malnutrition. Communion is more than bread and wine. It is a holy supper. And when people gather for supper, to eat their fill, talk late into the night, and become friends, holy things tends happen. People depart fed. Fed physically, emotionally, communally, and spiritually.

The Biblical reality that Communion began as a meal is important for food policy! It means that being Christian and advocating for good food policy go together. Because the Lord’s Supper is the experience of holy community, divine love, and the call to make the dinner table bigger so more people can be fed. And advocating for good food policy is one way we work with Christ to make a bigger table. Because Jesus was and is always seeking to feed more people. We Christians cannot take Communion this Sunday and forget about our brothers and sisters who struggle with chronic hunger and malnutrition. So, as we prepare for Communion may we remember that part of this holy supper’s preparation is making the table a little bit bigger so a few more people can be fed, both within the church and out in the world. As the apostle Paul teaches us, the Christian meal of Communion demands nothing less.

[1] 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, NRSV