Of all the things I remember about my weeklong visits to Episcopal church-camp during the summers of my youth, I can most vividly recall the times I spent in the dining hall. The food wasn’t particularly memorable, but everything surrounding the mealtimes I can remember with real emotional clarity. The cook for several of the summers I spent at camp was a little Hispanic man with a bald head and false teeth, that he often didn’t wear. His name was Pepe. I must have spent a fair amount of time hanging around the kitchen because Pepe and I became good friends. In fact, it was Pepe who gave me my first chef’s jacket—a white canvas shirt with two rows of buttons up the front that nearly drown my small ten-year-old frame. I didn’t care that the bottom of it extended to my knees and the sleeves had to be rolled up so many times that I looked like Popeye when I wore it. I was so proud of my new uniform. I was finally a chef. With my official garb I had unlimited access to the kitchen. Pepe and I both loved food and we both loved to cook.
Prior to the meals the assembly of hungry campers and counselors would take their places at the tables and stand to say grace. Grace wasn’t your typical Sunday supper prayer, but rather, a rousing melody of animated blessings, often accompanied by hand gestures or clapping. The more-shouting-than-singing prayers were lifted up with the heartfelt enthusiasm of a hungry child. I can still recite all the verses of the Johnny Appleseed grace, which, to my delight, is still being sung by my son’s generation of campers nearly two decades later. “O, the Lord is good to me/ and so I thank the Lord/ for giving me the things I need/ the sun and the rain and the apple seeds/ the Lord is good to me. Amen, Amen/ Amen, Amen, Amen/ Aaaaaaaaaaaamen.”
As I was putzing about my house this morning, out of the blue I found myself singing, The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord…, and I started thinking about what a fitting grace it is and how great it would be to say it more often than at church camp. With this song we thank God by praising God, not just for the prepared meal before us, but also for the materials of creation that have been employed for our use and enjoyment. The sun and the rain and the apple seeds are all gifts of God that make our living possible and that invite our praise.
But this blessing reminds me not just to give God praise for the gifts God sets before us, but also recalls the eagerness with which we sang this blessing as hungry children. Jesus says to his disciples, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled” (Luke 6:21), but warns them too, saying, “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry” (Luke 6:25). In John he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35). Before we can be filled with the bread of life we must hunger and thirst after God.
Our hunger for food can remind us of our hunger for God—something we can never truly have our fill of, and which we must always return to for more. We are told that Jesus had filled the hungry with good things, but the rich have been sent away empty-handed (Luke 1:53). When we hunger for God we, too, will be filled with good things. And being filled with good things we can come before his table singing, “O, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord!” just as a hungry child. Amen.