“When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.”
As a journalist who covers food and restaurants and as a Christian, I love this quote from one of my favorite theologians. Bishop Tom’s right, too: as the religious elite engages in its seemingly endless contemporary debate about the meaning of the cross and atonement, Jesus shushes us, gently telling us, “Take…and eat.”
As Trent notes throughout Chapter 28 of Jesus Journey, meals can be times of deep connection and meaning. For me, this was sitting around a table in Austin, Texas, with my wife’s family asking for her hand in marriage and declaring my intent to love her forever. It’s breaking bread with neighbors of mine who are experiencing homelessness at our local soup kitchen. It’s the many laughs and tears shared around the table with family and friends who are like family. Meals sustain us in more ways than just the physical.
This was (and is) especially true for Jewish people. Almost every significant commemoration or milestone is marked with food and drink. As Trent beautifully illustrates in this chapter, the Jewish Passover is teeming with delicious symbolism and memory of how a beloved community was delivered from the hands of death and destruction. And to put flesh and blood on the significance of his own rescue mission in the world, Jesus didn’t hand us a stuffy systematic theology … he gave us a meal. That’s revolutionary.
But let’s back up for just a minute. Why would the Creator of the universe choose a simple meal—and I do believe it is intended to be simple, accessible, and open to all—to illustrate such a weighty theological concept? To encapsulate the central unifying act of one of the world’s major religions?
Because food—a meal—is universally understandable. In a world population of 7 billion, the meal is perhaps the one practice we all understand. Yes, of course we all must eat to be sustained—to live. But as someone who spends his days talking to eaters, growers, servers, and chefs around the globe, I’m convinced that the practice of table is as central to human existence as mere caloric intake. Even the most materially poor cultures enjoy rich mealtime rituals and celebrations. Bread tastes better when broken with someone we love. Wine does not warm us when consumed in solitude quite the same way it does when we’re toasting with dear friends. Trent’s right: we homo sapiens are quite unique in the animal kingdom in our propensity to experience deep meaning and celebration in the act of eating. In a very real way, communal meals not only sustain our bodies, they sustain our spirits as well.
In the fullness of his humanity, Jesus was no different from any of the 7 billion humans on Planet Earth in this way. Some of his most significant ministry moments occurred around the table. Jesus eats his way through Luke’s Gospel from beginning to end: dining with Pharisees and tax collectors—including little ole Zacchaeus; sitting there as a “sinful woman” anoints his feet during dinner at Simon’s house; enjoying a meal with Mary and Martha; feeding more than 5,000 men and women with a few loaves and fishes; and sharing the table with his disciples in the hours before his betrayal and crucifixion. After his resurrection, he’d mark the last moments with his dear friends before his triumphant ascension into Heaven the way he did so many other milestones—with two simple meals.
I love to think about a hungry Jesus of Nazareth, sitting and laughing and sharing for hours with some of his closest friends and kin over a delicious, filling meal and jars of the best wine (because Jesus liked the good stuff). We don’t have to wonder whether Jesus did this, either. He was fully human. Of course he did this.
In this way, commemorating the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in sharing the Eucharist meal takes on new meaning. And enjoying delicious meals and mealtime rituals with neighbors and friends is one of the most spiritual, revolutionary, and Christ-like human actions.
Today's guest post is by Steve Holt: As a freelance writer and journalist, Steve has reported on everything from food to urbanism to crime for publications and websites including Civil Eats, The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Edible Boston, and Sojourners. In 2011, his feature about sustainable hamburgers in Boston was selected to be a part of that year’s Best Food Writing anthology. A Connecticut native, he and his wife Chrissy live with their two hilarious and talented children in East Boston—probably the best neighborhood anywhere—where they’ve thrown in with a home-based faith community called Ekklesia. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @thebostonwriter.