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Eating is a Godly Activity

Jen Bloesch
Sun, May 07

Text: Acts 2: 42-47

The energy at the women’s retreat this year was lively as we approached lunch. We had spent the morning in reflection, conversation, and movement, and by lunch time it was clear that people were feeling chatty. So when we sat down for lunch and Joanne Paul told us that we were going to do a silent meditative activity during our meal, I could feel just a little bit of resistance in the room. The mood was spirited, and we wanted to talk with each other! But Joanne had other plans for us…!

In front of each of us was a plate of neatly and carefully placed food. There was a cabbage leaf with quinoa resting inside, a ham and cucumber stack with rosemary, a few rounded melon bites, half a boiled egg, carrot sticks and celery stalks, some cheese, a small piece of chocolate, and some crackers in shared bowls. Leave it to Joanne to be both creative and organized! We mused at our plates with puzzlement, wondering what was about to happen and if there was going to be more food than that! As Joanne began the meditation, someone blurted out, “Are we going to do grace?” “Well hold on,” Joanne replied, “That’s what we are about to do!”

Well, we never said grace specifically, but the entire meditation was indeed a grace. Joanne brought us to a meditative mood and then asked us to locate one item of food on our plate. We gazed at it, thought about it, imagined it in all its sensual glory. Then we picked up that item of food, feeling it in our fingers and smelling it with our noses. We blessed our food. Then we placed the food in our mouths, careful not yet to chew. We savored the first tastes that alighted our tongues. And then, slowly, we chewed thoughtfully, observing the textures and tastes in our mouths. We stayed mindful of the flavor until after we swallowed and could experience the aftertaste. Never in our lives had any of us enjoyed our food so meticulously!

This pattern went on for a few bites before Joanne released us to continue the silent activity at our own pace. As we finished our plates, Joanne ended the meditation and gave us permission to share our experiences. At my table, the mood had shifted from bewilderment to a sense of centeredness. We talked about how most of us had never so thoughtfully experienced our food! One person mentioned how she usually has the next bite in her hand while she’s still working on a first bite. Another person shared about her desire for more intentionality around meal planning with her kids. Most of us agreed that too often we eat quickly, not really paying attention to our food or our meals.

In our society, eating has largely become a mindless activity. So often we eat on the go. Sometimes we even eat when we aren’t hungry! Guilty confession—when I feel stuck on a writing assignment for school, my first impulse is to go eat. I’m not even hungry! I’m not even savoring it. I just don’t want to do homework, and somehow eating seems like a better option! Food is so abundant and so accessible that we take it for granted. We forget that food is a matter of survival and sustenance because we just expect it will be there when we go to the store or to the fridge. We forget to be grateful. We forget that food comes from the earth—that some of it actually is grown in dirt. Or we forget that our ham and our chicken breast were once living, breathing animals. Our food has become so commercialized that we’ve lost all connection to it aside from its impact on our belly and on our wallet. Somewhere along the line, eating stopped being sacramental.

But this is fundamentally un-Christian! I don’t mean that as an indictment, but there is someone really core to our faith who long ago taught us about the sacredness of food and eating. Jesus! At the Last Supper, he shared bread and wine, saying, “this is my body, broken for you” and “this is the cup of my blood, the everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.” And then he says, “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus is relating food and drink to his literal physical self! Although this is metaphorical, Jesus understands that there is a connection between self and food—that there is a holy union of the body and of the sustenance. Jesus made eating sacramental—quite literally, because now we practice communion as a church sacrament.

Because in Christianity we believe that Jesus is divine, when we consume the elements, we are spiritually taking Jesus in. Jesus becomes one with who we are, and through the act of eating and drinking, we also become one with God. In this way, eating is a godly activity! What is just a commonplace and profane process, like putting food to your mouth, suddenly becomes a way to commune with the divine and also become divine! Jesus did not take eating for granted. He understood that it has spiritual meaning, and that we are all participating in a spiritual communion with the world and with God when we partake in a meal. Eating consciously and gratefully, we become more holy. Imagine that the next time you eat! At the women’s retreat, after eating that meal, we were so conscious, I’m pretty sure all of us were pretty darn holy!

Another problem we have in this country and in this culture is that we have an incredibly individual relationship with food. I go to work, and I make money for when I go to the grocery store to buy the food. I bring the food to my house and I cook it. How often, when you are preparing a meal, do you truly think about all of the hands that have helped make your food reach your plate? The seed supplier, the farmer, the farmhand, the truck driver, the distributor, the factory worker, the label maker, the grocer, the cashier, and so on? Our agricultural system is set up so we don’t have to think about those things. The labels hide all of the hands involved and instead just promise you whatever goodness you are hoping for when you consume that food. Eating has become an individual act divorced almost entirely from the origin of the food and the process it takes to get to your oven. And it divorces us from the network of natural forces and working people that make your food available.

Do we really know how many people support us? How many people touch us? How dependent we are not just our nearest relatives and neighbors, but the larger community that literally works and sweats so that we may be nourished? Do we feel connected? Do we see community in every meal before us? Do we sense the divine interdependency we share with others when we eat and drink? Does our food make us realize that we are not alone?

I don’t know if the apostles in the Book of Acts were connected to the source of their food. Perhaps they knew the farmer that grew their wheat or harvested their grapes. I’m not sure. But I do know one thing: breaking bread and sharing the cup was not a solo activity. Taking communion was not done in isolation as a personal spiritual practice. Instead, it was a sacred process to be done in community with others.

And breaking the bread was not a simple endeavor—it carried meaning, real meaning! In Acts, the people who took communion then were overcome with awe! They realized they shared all things in common, and they sold their possessions and distributed them to all. Has taking communion at church ever made you feel like you suddenly need to go home, sell all your possessions, and live in a commune? Probably not. But for the people in the book of Acts, communion was about transformation. That transformation they experienced was the realization that they were not alone. Their spiritual lives could not be had in isolation! Eating of the bread and drinking of the cup bonded them to a community of people, with whom they spent time and shared things in common. This bonding together was a reason to praise God! It was holy! Eating and drinking made them holy! Together!

Today, when you take communion, remember how the bread and the juice are grown and made from the nourishing soils of the earth, and the loving hands of countless others whom we cannot name today, but who nevertheless impact us and are a part of our story. And remember that eating and drinking is not merely ritualistic, but a process that connects you to the sacred. Let the food and drink enter you, bring you to life, and transform you from the inside. Let it remind you that you are never alone. May it inspire you to share your abundance with others so that the cycle of creating holiness is continued.

Not only do we get to be consumers of food today, receivers of this precious gift of life, but today so too do we get to be the hands that pass on this gift to others. In just a few moments, we will begin making sandwiches, right here in the sanctuary, for people living without housing in Cambridge. We will become part of the sacred web of people who participate in the process of creating nourishment for all. Hopefully, through our work, we can remind the people who receive these sandwiches that neither are they nor we alone—because now we are connected to their lives, and they are connected to ours. Perhaps as you come up and prepare the sandwiches, you can say a little prayer to bless the bread and the jam, in remembrance of our blessed brother, Jesus Christ, in honor of all the people who’ve helped this food arrive here today, and in caring and in love towards the people whose hands will receive the food next.

Friends, let us be in community—literally, with oneness—together as we consider the feast before us, to be shared amongst us and amongst many. May we not remain isolated and mindless, but may we instead remember how through food we are interwoven together and made one within the body of Christ. Be blessed. Be nourished. Be made holy, because at Christ’s table, at our table, all things have been made ready. Amen.

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