August 9, 2015

Jesus has just fed the five-thousand and has identified himself not simply as the new Moses, but as the manna from heaven personified, the bread of life itself. 

Eating together has always been a sacred event. Sometimes we recognize that; sometimes we don’t. Ancient cultures acknowledged this mystery by practicing certain strict customs. In Medieval Saracen tradition it was forbidden to kill anyone with whom you have sat at table, for you would be killing part of yourself. In the Jewish practice of Jesus’ day, to have a meal with another was a public announcement of your lifetime acceptance of that person.

That is why the radical table fellowship that characterized Jesus’ movement was so scandalous. Jesus welcomed to his table people who were known to be unclean, notorious sinners. People who were not even trying to live by the Biblical laws sat with him openly. He dined in their homes. No good rabbi would behave this way.

When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God he often used the metaphor of a great banquet. It is like a royal wedding banquet where everyone has been invited, both good and bad. At his most remembered meal, Jesus took off his robe and washed the others’ feet as though he were their servant. He took the bread and the wine, blessed it, broke the bread and gave it to his companions with words that identified that act of table communion with his immanent death. That following Easter Sunday, they knew him in the breaking of the bread. The disciples experienced his victory over death, his resurrection, as they repeated the familiar activity of eating together. Christians have known Jesus to be present in precisely the same way for nearly two thousand years. The church knows itself to be nourished by Christ in the bread broken and the wine poured out. We become what we eat, the Body of Christ, taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world.

We call that a sacrament. It is our word for the experience of the spiritual within the material. Maybe you remember from your Confirmation classes — A sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." Traditional Christian spirituality recognizes the two essential sacraments instituted by Jesus himself, baptism and the Eucharist, but we also have a tradition of recognizing the sacramentality of the whole of creation. Every table, every meal can be "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."

There is a profound connection between eating and listening to God. The story of the first sin is a story of wrong eating. Adam and Eve were tempted to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because "it was good for food, and ...a delight to the eyes, and desired to make one wise." Their desires deafened them to God’s intention for them, and they suffered terribly for their choice. The first temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness happened after he had fasted for forty days, and he was famished. The tempter said, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus’ answer makes explicit the connection between eating and listening to God. "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."

His ministry continued to be marked by teaching and feeding. His first miracle in John’s gospel was to turn water into wine at a wedding feast. The feeding of the multitudes is the miracle that is repeated most frequently in our four gospel accounts. The radical hospitality of his table is the most characteristic feature of his social relationships. The prayer that is uniquely identified with him has at its center a petition for our "daily bread."

Those lessons weren’t lost on the early church. A ritual meal, the Eucharist, has been the central act of worship for the Christian church since Easter Sunday. At least one Roman official complained of the food charity that the underground Christians practiced, writing a report to his superiors saying that these Christians "feed their own widows and ours." The order of deacons was created to distribute food and necessities to the poor. Our church stands in that long tradition as we distribute lunch every Saturday in the summer through the No Kid Hungry program. It doesn’t take much imagination to connect those feedings to the Eucharist we will share in a moment. We are trying to reclaim the radical table hospitality of Jesus when we offer our Eucharistic invitation saying, "No matter who you are or where you are in your pilgrimage of faith, you are welcome in this place and at God’s table."

But, we cannot eat mindfully while listening to God without being profoundly impacted by the fact that daily bread is a daily anxiety for at least one-fifth of our fellow human beings. Some have said that our planet’s food-related woes are deeply related to our spiritual hungers. Centuries ago, Isaiah asked in the name of God, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live." (Isaiah 55:2-3) Isaiah said that listening to God and feeding on God are deeply related. Centuries later Paul advised his congregations, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God."

As we pray for daily bread, we make that a prayer of hope grounded in faith. Come to this table with open hands, open hearts, and receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Know yourself to be the welcome guest of God at this festive banquet. As you eat and drink, experience yourself as completely loved of God. Let the mutual delight of this holy table fill you with thanksgiving. The food of this communion unites you with all who dine here. This meal unites you with every human being in all the world, for everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. Claim your gift of intimacy with God. For this meal is how we experience that we are the Body of Christ, given for all the world. We are a Holy Communion. Indeed, through this sacred meal we become the gifts of God for the people of God.