New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
April 19, 2016
For a long time I didn’t know I was a ‘foodie’. I thought I was just someone who loves to eat and eat well. I’m not quite as adventurous as some (I don’t go for things like squid and wouldn’t go near haggis unless offered to me by a native Scot), but I love Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine. I’m also a fan of Mediterranean foods: Armenian, Lebanese, Greek and Turkish. I’ve also tried Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Cuban, Spanish, Moroccan, and Ethiopian fare, and enjoyed each one. I’ve eaten local dishes while visiting the Bahamas, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Holland. When I lived in Ohio, I would go with a church group to an annual Hungarian dinner at a UCC church. My mother’s family is from Mississippi, so running through my veins is a fondness for my mother’s cornbread dressing, collard greens, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, shrimp gumbo, cornbread, and grits. And anything barbecued makes my mouth water (how’s yours doing right now?).
But one of my favorite meals is the church potluck. It exudes the aroma of the incarnation, the embodiment of the divine. Everyone usually prepares their beloved and best dish. And there are always some standard offerings: the ubiquitous lemon squares, broccoli salad, baked beans, green bean casserole, baked ziti (name your own preference). Worship is a lot like a potluck supper: some things you can count on; some surprises; some things you wouldn’t go near but someone likes it; some stuff doesn’t get touched at all; too much dessert or not enough, but it’s good just to be together and to have some nourishment, forget about business and put aside our differences for a while.
My husband and I had a potluck supper for our wedding reception. Some folks balked at the idea of bringing both a wedding present and a covered dish but we could not afford to pay for dinner for about 300 people: there were members of the church where I was the associate pastor and the church where David was a member, scads of children, plus our family and friends. David and I provided shrimp cocktail for everyone and four different sheet cakes besides a small ceremonial wedding cake. My church provided lemonade, iced tea, and coffee. And we ate and talked and danced and ate some more, under a tent on a beautiful June afternoon. It was like a piece of heaven.
I have often wished that there was a restaurant where everyone who came for dinner would bring a dish or dessert to share. All you’d have to pay for would be your beverage and an overhead charge. Every night it would be something different. Every night would be a different crowd, and the name of the restaurant would be “The Church Potluck” or “The Potluck Supper” so as to be non-sectarian. I know health codes wouldn’t allow such a thing but I’d like to think that such an enterprise could help change the world.
Jesus knew about this bond between food and community, how it seems you can’t have one without the other. Jesus made use of meals and food as a way of serving up justice and building community, that commonwealth known as the kingdom of God. In the feeding of the multitudes he demonstrated that there is more than enough for all. A mandate was also given: “You give them something to eat”. He ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners and other outcasts, revealing God’s desire that all be welcome at the table. At the last supper Jesus illustrated with bread and wine that there is no greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
In the reading from the lectionary in the gospel of Luke we enter into the middle of an Easter meal with Jesus and his followers. Just a few verses earlier Jesus shared the first course of bread with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now he is taking part in some broiled fish. Bread and fish take us back to the feeding of the multitudes and other humble suppers where the presence of Jesus and God’s love brought new life to those present.
Jesus eats this fish, and shows his scars once again, to give witness to his resurrection. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, an experience of the dead rather than of the living. The good news here is that the incarnation did not end on the cross. The risen Christ is the Jesus who died. Jesus Christ is God’s love in living, breathing flesh and bone. We are also made of the same flesh and bone. The resurrection hallows our fleshy existence and restores us to the image in which we were created, despite what we may perceive in the mirror.
For some of us this is a thorny issue, that being in the flesh is a good thing. Some of us have real problems with food. Most of us have turned to food for comfort at one time or another. The term ‘comfort food’ doesn’t conjure up certain images in each of us for nothing. Other times we punish ourselves by denying particular foods or we try to bulk up our self-esteem by refraining from indulging our secret cravings. Some of us analyze every morsel that passes our lips while others of us don’t think twice, let alone remember what we ate. So for Jesus to make plain the resurrection through the flesh of his body and eating of food so as to build this budding faith community can sound problematic at best to us who have issues with food.
Sometimes when we eat, we want to satisfy a deeper hunger than the one in our bellies. And this is what Jesus is getting at. He has a poor man’s supper with the disciples but then he moves on to the meat of it all. He teaches them again the scriptures to show them the consistent faithfulness of God. God’s love shown through the resurrection should come as no surprise to them; it is part of the thread of grace that runs throughout the entire Bible. And it is this grace, this unconditional love, which fills our longing that has no name, our appetite for the ineffable, our yearning for transcendence.
Jesus isn’t about convincing them of the resurrection for the sake of believing. Jesus witnesses to the disciples so that they would bind themselves together as a body resurrected from their grief, to remember all that they had been taught, all that they had seen and heard so as to share it with others. Talking about faith over a good and simple meal is as good as it gets in my opinion. We are nourished in both body and spirit, fully satisfied by God’s good gifts.
Though the organic food movement dates as far back as the 1920’s, to Rudolph Steiner in Germany, we have been slow to connect what we eat, how it is grown and harvested with not only our physical health but with our spiritual well-being. Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring declared loud and clear how we are damaging the earth’s ecosystems and our own body systems by how we use pesticides. In the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. we learn that our food is more engineered than grown, and more of our food is produced by a small handful of corporations. When we eat, it’s not often that we realize that we’re eating dirt, water, sunlight, and a great deal of hard work. Everything we eat comes from the earth or depends on it in some way. Truly we are eating elements of resurrection: a body broken and blessed, given for us, that has the power to bring us to new life.
We’ve forgotten what it means to live by the 1970’s slogan Know your farmer, know your food and to appreciate God’s good gifts in their season. Of course, Jesus and his disciples lived in a time when all food was local. They would probably look at our ways of food production and think us disconnected from the divine itself.
We celebrate Easter whenever we join around a table, give thanks, pass the plates, and by eating together, create new life and new joy. How much more does eating food grown in our own backyard, or on a local farm, add to that new life and new joy!
When was the last time we had a potluck supper after worship, when most folks would be able to stay? Do we need to recommit our efforts to shop at farmers markets, the local co-op, or sign up for a CSA share, and to have local foods present when we gather? Have we ever considered having a raised vegetable garden on the church grounds? Jesus shows us just how ‘fleshy’ he is; how ‘fleshy’ is Jesus in this church? Is he a ghost or a real flesh and bone Jesus made alive in each of us and in our life together? How do we connect our “feeding of the hungry” with our own feeding at the Communion table? If we celebrate Easter with eating, how does that influence other meals, like the family dinner, the business lunch, the midnight snack, the guilty binge, the drive-through quick-fix, the commuting breakfast?
When we the Church realize how significant and how deep the resurrection is, authentic community, life-sustaining, life-creating, justice-serving community comes into being. Jesus said “Love one another as I have loved you”—love that is not a feeling or a good idea but action made in our flesh and bone. Jesus told Peter “Feed my sheep”, that we be fed and feed each other in such a way as to transform us and the earth, the kitchen table and that church potluck into the heavenly banquet where all are welcomed, restored, nourished, accepted, resurrected. Saint Food, make us instruments of your peace. Amen.