Creatures Who Eat

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:35-48

“When the risen Christ eats with the disciples it is not just a way of proving that he is ‘really’ there, it is a way of saying that what Jesus did in creating a new community during his earthly life, he is doing now in his risen life.”
(Rowan Williams, Being Christian, pg. 45.)

Reading this passage from the former Archbishop’s pen made me want to say “Amen, and.” And, what Jesus has done and is doing and will do began when the world was created. God created us as creatures who eat.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how Christians eat. After twelve years in local rural churches (and more potlucks and Harvest Festivals than I can possibly count), last year I was appointed to what the United Methodist Church calls “extension ministry”, a way of saying that the ministry to which I am appointed extends beyond the local church but is still very much with and for and in the local church. I am appointed by our Bishop to one district made up of 107 local congregations, ranging in size from huge to tiny, urban to rural, thriving to dying, and every possible thing in-between.

As the director of Life around the Table, we are asking churches this question: “What does the way you eat and invite others to eat say about your relationship with God and neighbor?” Of course, this is a damning question. Is the God we worship a god who gives food to some and not to others? Is the God we worship a god who asks us to get our food however we can, by whatever means, with no regard for health of soil, water, and neighbor? Is the God we worship a god who desires that our bodies be filled with manufactured “food” that costs pennies and fills an empty spot with seeds of disease that masquerade as nourishment?

We are hearing people say things like, “I never thought about it like that before.” We see people sitting on the edges of their pews when we preach, and then leave, wondering where they will eat lunch after worship.

We are asking congregations about their eating practices. How often do you celebrate Holy Communion? What names do you use for this meal? How often to you preach or teach about The Meal? How often do you eat together as a church community? Do you cook? Cater? Order pizza? Who comes? Who doesn’t come?

How do you feed your neighbors? Do you use food as fundraisers? What kind of food do you distribute in your pantries or school back packs? Are there people in your community who are hungry or food insecure?

Someone once said that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Even before Jesus was born, Mary’s song proclaimed that the hungry would be filled. The King of the world was born in the feeding trough of farm animals. The first disciples were in the food harvesting and distribution business – they were fishermen.

When Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead, Jesus demanded that she be given something to eat. When the disciples point out that the crowds who are following them are hungry, Jesus instructs them to be fed. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray for their daily bread; he condemns the Pharisees at a meal, eats in the home of Mary and Martha, flips social norms upside down by instructing the people to invite the poor to their meals, giving them the best spots at the table. Jesus invites himself to supper with Zacchaeus, and before he is betrayed and handed over to be killed, Jesus desires to eat the Passover meal with the disciples. He tells them that it is in this meal that he will be remembered, re-membered.

As Luke’s gospel comes to a conclusion, Jesus is recognized through the breaking and sharing of bread. He eats fish prepared by the confused disciples, confirming not only that he is not a ghost, but also that any ministry in his name must involve eating, because the resurrection cannot be talked about apart from bodies, and bodies must eat to live. The community of the New Creation will be a community that eats, and such eating will be an act of resistance to anything that would try to say that anyone’s body is not of value.

It matters what is put on our plates, and on the plates of our neighbors. We were created to eat, and how we eat has a great deal to say about who we are and who we believe God to be. Eating is a political act, and so, it will cause heads to turn.
Sometimes I wonder if food pantries and the church potluck are slow and painful methods of torturing bodies made in the image and likeness of the Creator. (Don’t laugh! I know this is a tough and complicated topic – the hallowed church potluck certainly has its benefits…but: couldn’t we do better? In fact, I have witnessed resurrection in churches who are committed to eating more faithfully).

Of course, the particular way of eating Jesus has given the peculiar people called Christian is The Eucharist. When partaken faithfully and regularly, shouldn’t our lives around the Table be extended into the streets of our communities, and to tables in alleys, picnic tables, banquet tables, homes, and community centers? Doesn’t eating Jesus change how we eat with each other, until all food is a kind of Eucharist?

Our little experiment is causing heads to turn. We have learned that only six of the 64 churches that participated in our interviews celebrate the Eucharist weekly. There seems to be a huge disconnect between what happens (however infrequently) at the Table on Sunday and what happens at dinner tables every day.

We were not surprised to learn that church people like to eat. More churches are catering than ever before. The fresh-from-the-garden covered dish meal has been replaced by convenience food, or (in wealthier churches) catered meals. The pastor is infrequently involved in meal decisions. When contributing to the food pantry, people admitted that they tend to purchase shelf-stable “bargains” at the grocery store.

At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus opens the minds of the disciples to understand the scriptures through the lens of resurrection. Slowly but surely, things are beginning to make sense. Jesus hands the disciples the task of preaching repentance and forgiveness in his name, through the power that will clothe them at the right time – the promised Holy Spirit.

Last year in their eight month series about food, National Geographic proclaimed that the proposed solutions to the global food/ecological crisis would require a “big shift in thinking.” Journalism is speaking God-talk, whether they know it or not. Repentance. The look of poverty is obesity, and we live in a nation filled with bodies created in the image and likeness of a crucified and risen God that are getting heavier and less healthy by the day at the expense of a creation whose body is being abused. Metanoia.

We are witnesses of these things. We bear witnesses through the life we share as bodies and the Body who sees all bodies as worthy…especially, perhaps, the broken bodies we confess we are. We celebrate that God is up to something. Could it be that the renewal of the church will come through the renewal of our eating practices?

+We are in the process of compiling this data. We celebrate that 95% of participants asked for help and more information.

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