catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 8 :: 2007.04.20 — 2007.05.04


Late night thoughts on food as sacrament

Once upon a time I took a seminary class entitled “Hospitality and Table Fellowship in the New Testament.”  The first assignment was to read through the NT and highlight every single text dealing with the course subject.  The experience was astonishing, to say the least, as the number of references is enormous.  An obvious, but often overlooked or neglected, truth that emerged from this exercise was that since Jesus owned no home, he dined out all the time.  We perhaps too readily focus on the episodes in which he was host—the feedings of the multitudes, the Last Supper—but the everyday reality of his life was that of being guest at someone else’s table.

I think of my experiences of being a guest, either at someone’s home or at a restaurant, and wonder if Jesus felt as I do that eating out is not primarily about the food.  In either location, what makes the moment wondrous and memorable is the love and joy those hosting bring to the table.  The best restaurants and homes I’ve eaten in often have included delightful attention to the details of ambience—colors, table setting, flowers, music, lighting, food presentation—but all these were but expressions of the desire, motivated at its essence by love, to create a beautiful experience.  An excitement for what I am going to experience as a guest, as opposed to how impressed I am going to be, is the context for the food. And so the food itself can be amazing or ordinary.   

Holy Communion is subject to this understanding as well.  If one comes to the moment thinking it’s all about the elements and how the Divine is present in and through them, then the sacramental quality of the experience is lost or at least compromised.  But if it’s about the ancient words and symbols mysteriously bearing Life and creating community and touching the senses but so much more, then indeed we partake of Love and not empty judgment.  And again, if that holy meal is received week after week, it begins to shape our experience of all meals and reveals to us the sacramental nature of hospitality and table fellowship in all its pervasive presence.  It is just there that the offense of fast food and eating without conscious awareness is greatest. 

When I have enjoyed a splendid meal at a restaurant, I often wish I could ask the management how they train their wait staff.  When the staff are sloppy on the one hand or falsely sincere on the other, it is if the food is tainted by their lack of genuine affection.  Just as I come to worship hoping the leaders will usher me into an encounter with the Holy One, so I come to a restaurant hoping the staff is excited to create a moment of joy and sensuous pleasure.  I like to think the best training of wait staff is centered on the question, “What is it that we serve here?”  Not just food.  And that kind of training can make meals in the most mundane eating establishments a pleasure.

How might I imitate Jesus as a guest when I eat out?   I doubt he disdained, much less abused, wait staff as I see done rather often.  I like to think he marveled at how the earth’s bounty could be so enhanced by loving and creative preparation.  We aren’t really given much data on his behavior.  But we do know this: when a woman whose name was never to be forgotten, but has been, came to him while he was at table and filled a house with an exquisite fragrance as she anointed his feet, he said, “She has done a beautiful thing for me.”  And perhaps that should be our line as well when such is the case, when the occasion of sharing food becomes a sacrament, an encounter with the Divine.

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