Eating in the Presence of God

The following is a sermon that I preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Park City, Utah on Sunday, June 10th, 2012.  The passages read at St. Luke’s were 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 and Mark 3:20-35.  Thank you for reading.  Please share your thoughts about eating in the presence of God in the comments section below.

***

The Bible is full of stories, metaphors, and parables about food and eating.  In Genesis, the fall of humankind happened over a misbegotten snack.[1]  In the book of Leviticus the Israelites are given divine culinary instruction in the form of intricate dietary laws that many Jews still religiously observe.[2]  The Psalms praise God for preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies,[3] and the prophet Isaiah promises the Israelites that God will redeem them from their oppressors and tells them they will “eat what is good” for their “souls will delight in the richest fare.”[4]

The New Testament is no less vivid about the presence, and thus importance, of food.  Jesus was chastised for his choice of dinner company,[5] he fed thousands of people with a meager amount of bread and fish[6] and he told his followers that he is “the bread of life.”[7]  The Apostle Paul wrote at length about food and what people should or shouldn’t eat, he made explicit the connection between our participation in Christ and our partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, as our ultimate commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice. [8] Though food is present in so many Bible stories, it is rarely the feature that we talk about.

Our modern lives are similar.  Those of us for whom food is readily available eat several times a day, oftentimes with little thought about the actual food that we consume.  Whether we give it great care or little thought, food is at the heart of our common lives.  We meet friends for coffee and bagels, we invite family over for Sunday suppers, and any good church committee meeting is accompanied with snacks or a meal of some kind.  And as church goers we all know that churches and potlucks go together like bread and butter.

We, as Christians, following in our biblical heritage, are clearly an eating people.  But we are not just foodies, or even faithful foodies—our whole lives as Christians is shaped by the common meal we share together each week when we come forward to receive the Lord’s Supper.  We are not just an eating people, we are a Eucharistic people.

The Eucharist is a tangible sign of God’s presence.  When we eat the bread and drink the wine, we do so in remembrance of Christ’s death and sacrifice for us.  The bread and the wine, our Eucharistic food, feeds and gives life to our bodies, nourishing and renewing our souls, and connecting us with God through Christ, in the most intimate and physical of ways possible.[9]

In the book of Luke Jesus tells us, “Whenever you drink from this cup, and eat of this bread, do this in remembrance of me.”[10]  In today’s reading from the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “our inner nature is being renewed day by day…” In the next chapter of Paul’s letter, which we didn’t read today, we hear that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.[11]

Through our Church’s history we have come to understand that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”[12]  In essence, we recognize the Eucharist as the sacrament by which we are made a new creation in Christ, and renewed day by day.[13]  It is how we are sanctified by God to become the gathered Body of Christ.  In my home parish, when someone is taking Communion to a homebound person after the service, the congregation gives it’s blessing to the lay visitor, affirming, “we, who are many, are one body for we all share in the one bread.”[14]

The Eucharist, the real sign of God’s presence and grace, reminds us of our relationship with God.  Moreover, it is one of the most significant ways that we participate with Christ, in gathering ourselves and our world closer to God because in it we are forgiven, sanctified, and made new.  While our participation in this sacrament is of utmost importance to us as Christians, it is what we do with the rest of our lives that confirms our acceptance of God’s grace and mercy to us.

In an article I read recently, the theologian Norman Wirzba urges the following recognition.  “At the Lord’s Supper,” he says, “we are nourished by Jesus so that we can nourish the world around us.”[15]  Wirzba goes on to encourage us to take seriously the fact that the Eucharist makes something possible—it makes possible the vision of a substantially better world.  It is with this transformed vision of hope that we can look at our world with God’s renewal in mind.  It is in being Eucharistic people that we can, recalling Paul’s words to us today, “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.”[16]  That is, we can have faith that allows us to imagine possibilities yet unseen, and a world still waiting to be created.

For myself, and many others who are joining the growing food movement within the church, that vision starts with the bread we eat and the wine we drink at the Lord’s table, and connects that faithful act to the food and drink that feed us at our dinner tables.  Both are tables we come to in order to share ourselves with others in the presence of food, to give and receive nourishment, and remember that God is the source of all that feeds us.  Just as the bread and wine that we eat and drink transforms us and our lives, we have the ability to transform our selves and our world three times a day with what we eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  If that’s not an incredible opportunity to change our world, then I don’t know what is.

Put succinctly, food matters.  Food matters to those of us, like myself, who love all things culinary—cooking, eating, dining with friends… Food matters to the small farmers whose livelihoods depend on the crops the land yields to them each season.  Food matters to the migrant workers who follow the growing cycle around the country, harvesting food so that we can have ripe tomatoes in January, and cheap bananas even in the Rocky Mountains.  And food certainly matters to our brothers and sisters who don’t have any to put on their tables.  Food matters first and foremost because all food, before it has been harvested and sold, or processed and packaged, before it can be chopped up and sautéed, or uncorked and poured out, is literally the fruit of God’s creation.  Food matters because God’s creation matters.  All of it—you and I, the farmer and the farm worker, the undernourished and the overfed, the land, the water, the plants, the animals, and the air we breathe.  All of it is, in its essence, God’s wonderful creation.

The renewal that is graciously given to us at the Lord’s Table during the Eucharist extends out from us to the whole of God’s creation.  Through us God’s creation can be renewed, too; restored to the self-sustaining, verdant, and life-giving state that it was in when God entrusted his creation to our care in the Garden of Eden.  In the last year and a half since I began exploring the connection between food and faith, I have had the remarkable, and I think divinely arranged opportunity to witness the beginning of a movement to encourage a theological perspective on what and how we eat.  The farmers, priests, community gardeners, fathers and mothers, academics and theologians who are the hands and feet of this movement are asking, “How should we eat in the presence of God.”

Their faithful responses are as diverse as the people asking them, but all of them have a hope for the world that can only take place when we eat in way that reflects our faith in God.  Paul Clever, a farmer in Athens, Ohio, lives with his family and a handful of other “common friars (as they call themselves) on a small plot of land, called “The Good Earth Farm.”  The farm provides the small group with most of the food they need to live on day to day, and the rest—over 10,000 pounds last year—is donated to local food pantries and community feeding programs.  For a priest that I met from Pennsylvania, a faithful response meant starting a farmer’s market in the parking lot of her church, so that small farmers would have better access to consumers.  For a man I met from Chicago, his church community decided to tear out their water-intensive lawn and plant a community garden with plots available for church goers and non-church goers alike.  The modest plots help individuals become better connected to the source of their food, and indicate to the whole community that this is a church that takes its ministry to the land and to the people, seriously.  For myself and my family, we started educating ourselves about where our meat, produce, grains, and cheeses came from.  After a good deal of prayer and reflection my husband and I decided to stop eating meat, and to buy locally grown and prepared foods as often as we could.

For us and for the countless others who are exploring how to eat in the presence of God, these are small but significant choices that help manifest a vision of renewal for all of God’s creation.   There is no perfect solution to eating responsibly, but there are concrete ways that we can affirm our belief in God’s grace and goodness.  Our hope, and our renewal, is made possible every time we come to the table in the presence of God.  Eating in the presence of God means honoring God and his creation with what we eat and what we feed others.   Sometimes this entails stretching beyond our routines and desires to make decisions or to take actions that challenge our worldly ways.

We are both called and empowered by our participation in the Eucharist.  We drink the cup and eat the bread in order not only to receive personal renewal, but to be emboldened to work for the renewal of all of God’s creation.  What we eat, where it comes from, how it gets to us, and what it does to our bodies once we ingest it all carry consequences to God’s creation—the plants, animals, air, and the many others who depend on these things for their own survival.  Our sacramental commitments, starting with the Eucharist, charge us to live in ways that reflect our faith, beginning with how we eat knowing that God is indeed at the table with us.  Amen.

 


[1] Genesis 3

[2] Leviticus 11

[3] Psalms 23:5

[4] Isaiah 55:2

[5] Mark 2:15-17

[7] John 6:35

[8] 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

[9] This should be understood as a “real presence,” and not necessarily a transubstantiation of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the bread and the wine.

[10] Luke 22:14-20

[11] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[12] First formulated by Richard Hooker, this is also articulated on p. 857 of The Book of Common Prayer, under the definition of a sacrament.

[13] Our baptism, which canonically must precede our reception of the Eucharist (though this is admittedly not always the case, and something for which I am not arguing one way or another), also confirms us as God’s new creation.I

[14] 1 Corinthians 10:17

[15] Norman Wirzba, “Eating in Ignorance,” in Christian Century, May 30, 2012, p. 26.

[16] 2 Corinthians 4:18

Advertisements

One thought on “Eating in the Presence of God

  1. Pingback: The Sugar Manifesto | Shesourceful

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s