In the Name…
A church had a picnic and the pastor placed a basket full of apples on one end of a table with a sign saying, "Take only one apple please - Remember that God is watching." On the other end of the table was a plate of cookies. One of the children saw this and said to another, “Take all the cookies you want -- God is watching the apples."
There's an old saying about church gatherings, "If we hadn't ha' et, we wouldn't ha' met." But, there might be a Biblical reason for that. It's amazing how often, when we step inside the Gospels, we find ourselves with Jesus at someone's table sharing a meal. It's also amazing how often, when we step onto this property, we also find ourselves sharing food and drink at the festive celebrations which define our common life.
Table fellowship was a marked feature of Christ's ministry. In his day, it really mattered what and with whom you ate. The methods and rituals of food preparation were a big deal. There were no restaurants to say nothing of microwave dinners. Food involved serious social interaction.
Today, we've largely lost that aspect of eating together, but, there's an innate sacramentality to a shared meal which persists in our experience. We've all been at table sometime or other and suddenly realized something far greater than the food before us or the friends around us. As we converse and sip and taste, as we laugh or fall silent, we may have reflected, like Jacob at Bethel, "Surely the spirit of the Lord is in this place."
The sharing of food with the disciples was one of the primary elements of Jesus' resurrection appearances. He broke bread with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and, only then, they recognized him. On another occasion, after fishing all night, the disciples saw Jesus on the shore and joined him for breakfast. And, in today’s Gospel, he appears in the Upper Room and asks, "What’s for supper?"
In the Early Church, Easter was the one time in the year when baptisms were performed and the Easter Season was used to instruct the newly baptized in the sacraments which they were now able to receive, particularly the Eucharist. But, all of us can use a reminder that our Easter proclamation says that experience of Jesus in the Eucharist and the experience of each other in meals are deeply related.
When we have happy events in our lives our first thought is to get together and eat and drink with others to celebrate. And when we have sad and tragic moments in our lives, there is the same impulse for us to have food and drink as we support each other.
In the church's liturgy we express the same relationship. The Eucharist is central to the liturgy of both funerals and weddings for just as we must eat together to know each other, we must also, it appears, eat together to know God.
In the great story of the Scriptures, food plays a very important role, both for good and ill. Remember how the Fall of Adam and Eve was caused. And the first murder was occasioned by an argument over which kind of food was a better offering to God. The Hebrews rebelled in the wilderness because the Exodus menu of manna was too limited for their taste. And Satan's first temptation of Jesus was that he could gain Mankind’s total devotion merely by turning stones into bread.
On the other hand, food and drink appear in the good parts of the story as well. Abraham welcomes three strangers to his table and learns that they are angels come to bless him and Sarah. In spite of the rebellion in the wilderness, God sends the Hebrews quails and quenches their thirst with water from the rock. Jesus feeds five thousand with a young boy's lunch of bread and fish. And, the culmination of God's plan for humanity and the entire creation is described as a wedding feast which will last forever and to which all are invited.
When you and I share the Eucharist all the parts of this sacred story come alive. Above all, we see God using food as the means of grace and the hope of glory, for, in the Eucharist, our identity as members of Christ's body, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom is renewed and once again brought to mind.
There’s an old saying that we are what we eat. How true. Certain foods and drinks underscore our ethnic, national, or generational identities – hamburgers and lasagne, tacos and sushi. Certain foods and drinks define the great holidays and important celebrations of our lives; champagne and cake at weddings, turkey at Thanksgiving, and hot dogs on the Fourth of July. By the way, my Irish brother-in-law assures me that nobody in Ireland eats corned beef and cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. That’s an American thing.
But, every meal, no matter how formal and ritualized, or ordinary and casual, is filled with the potential to build and deepen relationships and no meal more than the Eucharist and no relationship more than that with Jesus, for the Eucharist changes us in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It is truly a "holy" communion because it brings our inmost being into contact with the inmost being of the living God. We come to the altar as we are and become what we eat. It is a profound mystery and miracle and there is nothing else like it in Heaven or on Earth.
It is, indeed, how we know Jesus in his resurrection. In this holy meal, we know him to be, as St. Thomas put it, my Lord and my God. In this holy meal we recall that we are the members of his risen body in the world. And, in this holy meal we discover that we are called to do for all people what God has done for us.
As Abraham found himself entertaining angels, so we are also called to feed and nurture the strangers in our midst and, in them, receive God’s blessing. As God fed griping Hebrews in the wilderness, so we are also called to meet the needs of people who may be complaining, unappreciative or frightening. As Jesus fed the multitude, so we are also called to give out of what we have and, as a society, direct our nation's material goods to feed a hungry world.
And, we are called to make our lives, our homes, our communities, our churches, signs of that great feast which is yet to come.
St. Augustine put it this way in an Easter sermon. "You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; and you are to be blessed, broken, and distributed; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of eternal love."
So, we’ve met. In a moment, we’ll have ‘et. What happens next? Let’s not forget.
In the Name…