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Knowing God in the Feast

Katie Omberg
Sun, Apr 03

Text: Luke 24:13-35

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

Have you ever recognized someone in food? Maybe it’s familiar cooking, a dish you haven’t had in years. Maybe it’s a recipe handed down for generations, like my mom’s tunnel of fudge chocolate cake, a recipe got from her grandmother (so, technically, it’s my great-grandmother’s tunnel of fudge cake.) Maybe it’s that signature baked brie that that one friend always serves at house parties. The story heard today is, among other things, a story of recognition and joy in food.

This resurrection appearance takes place along the road to Emmaus, a small town about seven miles outside Jerusalem. We meet two disciples, saddened by their destroyed hope that Jesus, this man, might just be the Messiah, the savior of the people. In their sadness they meet a smart-aleck stranger, who plays dumb to what happened to Jesus, forcing them to explain it over again, and then explains the Torah and books of the Prophets to them. At the end, they invite the stranger to dinner and, at the moment of eating, he is recognized to be no stranger at all, but rather the very same Jesus who they watched be hauled off by Roman troops, crucified, and died. When they realize what’s happening Jesus vanishes from their sight, and they rush back to Jerusalem to share their amazing story with the rest of the gang of Apostles and disciples.

The story is an incredibly physical one: we hear about walking along the dusty road, the eyes of the apostles being prevented from seeing Jesus’ true identity. At the end of the story, they sit at the table and break bread together. After Jesus’ mysterious disappearance, they say to each other, “’Weren’t our hearts burning’ in his presence?” While the story is of a seemingly magical resurrection appearance, it takes place in this plane, in a very real, very physical setting.

This physicality is not new in the Gospel of Luke, nor is the centrality of eating in the narrative. In this Gospel is the story of the feeding of the 5,000, where the fishes and loaves are multiplied, so that “all who ate were filled.” In the Last Supper, the last time we meet Jesus in the company of his friends, he is eating.

While these two on the road to Emmaus were not at the Last Supper, they are invited into the fellowship of eating with Jesus after his death. Really, this is the only time they are in fellowship with Jesus, as his identity had been hidden from them.

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

But when gives them the bread, “their eyes were opened,” meaning, they were able to comprehend and know that this stranger with them was in fact Jesus. In the eating, God is known.

In our Christian tradition, there is an intimate bond between the tasting of food and the knowledge of God. One of the two sacraments celebrated by the UCC is Communion, where we know Jesus in the act of eating. We see this link in communion hymns like “Taste and See,” in the Latin word sapere, which means both to taste and to know. When the bread is broken at Emmaus, the eyes of the disciples are opened. Not because they were closed, but because they realize who is in their midst, that God is present at the table, the Messiah and prophet they knew and who died in Jerusalem still lives. Life, hope and joy are restored to them in the act of eating an intimate meal with their beloved Jesus.

Theologian Angel Mendez Montoya reflects a belief in the radical community of inclusion in the meal, writing that “food becomes a language of intimacy.”

So why is it that we deny ourselves this intimacy?
“I’m being bad.”
“I can eat this because I’ve been good all day.”
“I wish I could eat like you can, but it all goes straight to my thighs.”

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

“I can’t believe he’s eating that. Can’t he see how fat he is?”
“Do you really need to have that? You could make a better choice for yourself.”

We cut ourselves and our friends off from the intimacy of food through policing it, of making “fat” a slur.
Rebel Wilson, in my opinion the star of the movie Pitch Perfect, plays a character called “Fat Amy,” who is an unapologetically fat woman. At the end, when they’re all having this heart-to-heart moment, she tells the rest of her a capella crew: “some of you are thin, but you all have fat hearts.” She reclaims what “fat” means: generous, loving, abundant.

Linda Isherwood, a feminist theologian, describes the bible’s use of food in a very similar way- as a “sign of love, community and the sacred.” How painfully ironic then that our society has a pervasive fat-shaming moralism, in which fatness is seen as demonic, self-hating, weak. It is in the sharing of food that the hope of the disciples is restored. Their gloomy, downcast gaze when they first meet Jesus on the road is replaced by rushing back to Jerusalem to share their amazing news. The hospitality of an open table, a foretaste of the banquet of heaven that we will be celebrating today, this sacred occasion is centered around eating- there is no way around that fact.
We need to imagine a world where all bodies are worthy of love: from god and from neighbor, and that we extend this love of bodies to god and to neighbor. We must delight in god’s creation, no matter its size. Today’s service plays host to both sacraments of baptism and communion. We must bring about a world where the children baptized today are not shunned from any table, from any love of self and any inclusion in God’s kingdom. We must invite them into this community, and then we must invite them to the welcome table, the table to which “all are welcome.”

This invitation is to happen without judgment, stares, ridicule and comments. I cannot imagine having a fat person or person of size, or bigger bodied person approach the communion table and saying “hm, are you sure you should be eating this?” While these seems hyperbolic, the “welcome” table is not always so welcome. People have been dismissed from the table, from Communion with the people, because of their bodies for too long: disabled bodies, queer bodies, poor bodies, fat bodies. Body policing is one symptom of systematic oppression and demonization of people “other than,” which is usually pronounced “less than.” And this oppression must be dismantled in all its guises. Every body must be welcomed as Jesus welcomes us, every body must be welcomed as Jesus welcomed the two disciples at Emmaus. To do any less is to act counter to the Gospel, the Good News of God.

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