Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. ~Voltaire
There is no question that this was penned by an enlightenment writer.
Many of you may not have noticed … but I love eating! I love good food and I love trying new food. When it comes to food nowadays it is becoming harder to enjoy eating because every study group imaginable is telling us what food we should not be eating. Oddly, what one study says is terrible, another says is healthy. These experts agree about as much as biblical scholars agree on many matters – next to never. Julia Child once said on a TV program, "They have made us afraid of our food!" How true! Well, I am here to declare that I am NOT afraid of my food. I agree with Voltaire. How tiresome would the very act of eating be if not for the pleasure that comes with eating?
That pleasure for me is found in a few ways.
Perhaps the first place that I derive pleasure in eating is in cooking the meal itself. I love to cook and I love to create while I am at it. ‘Recipes are a theme,’ I read somewhere, and the cook can play with that theme as she or he wishes. There is something really satisfying about discovering a new taste by combining different ingredients. Oddly, it is like ‘doing’ or ‘being’ church. If we have the courage to not be afraid of using all of the ingredients that God has placed before us in bringing together a casserole of love and justice, we will be surprised at what we might produce. I love cooking, and I love being church. In each instance I would add that there are times when we have to learn by trial and error. We figure out – sometimes the hard way – that some recipes are not for success. Those lessons are valuable. When I try new things in the kitchen, I sometimes find that what did not work needs a little tweaking one way or another and when I come back at it again, the results are delicious. So it is in being church. I believe our community is learning day by day how to better be church. I believe strongly that people of God at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake are great at trying new recipes, including many ingredients that others are afraid to include – and the result is a more than palatable parish with a toothsome togetherness. I think those who get to sample this dish find it hard to resist a second helping.
Another point of pleasure in eating for me is simply in the eating itself. Taste is a wonderful gift from God. It is a great delight when the taste buds find a pleasing taste for the first time. Perhaps more interesting is the notion that those same taste buds can be impressed over and over again and even long for the same dish, the same treat. Those same taste buds will also tell us when we have taken in something that we do not like. I take great satisfaction in tasting something that I have cooked that is really good, but I take even more satisfaction in eating something that another has prepared that is exquisite. I think that here too, there is metaphor for the church. ‘Being Church’ means figuring out what tastes right for us. When we do, it is fair to say that we go back to that same old tried and true recipe that has never let us down. Having said that, we have to be careful not to let the taste buds get complacent being exposed to one food only, over and over again. So it is incumbent upon us as church then to honour the notion that we need to feed people with more than one meal and we need to serve it in more than one way, including a variety of spices and seasonings. In the Anglican context, our meat and potatoes is our Eucharistic celebration. Each week we know when we gather around the table that we will feast on the life-giving presence of Jesus in the form of the Eucharist. Having that spiritual ‘comfort food’ is crucial and it gives life and nourishment to the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ What we also have in the Anglican Context is a rich ability to bring so much more to that meal each week. We need to ask ourselves as a community, "What are we serving before and after that great feast?" Also, how do we garnish our Eucharistic Celebration? As church we have to embrace the many ways in which we can ‘spice up’ our church experience. Take a look at this list of Ingredients;
Children, Seniors, Youth, Artists, Musicians, Poets, Colour, Smell, Joy, Laughter, Tears, The Broken, The Stranger
Silence, Teachers, Healers, the Disabled, the Builders, and the list goes on.
What do we do for instance with these and other ingredients in our church communities to make our eating together most flavourful? I personally want to know that each week we gather we will have the tried and true Eucharistic Celebration. I am pleased that the People of God in my place of worship have added so much more to that feast for me each week. Here is a for-instance. Let me tell you about dessert at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake today;
We have a great young man named Michael in our church. Michael is in a wheelchair. He has some challenges but I refuse to say he is disabled because he has so many abilities. Michael was very excited today to tell me that he had graduated from his program at school. It is a life skills program. At the end of church today, after the choir and the rest of our altar party had made its way to the back I wheeled Michael to the centre aisle and we as a church had the dessert to our Eucharistic meal. "Michael has had a big week, haven’t you?" I said! Michael beamed a wide-mouthed smile and nodded yes. I continued, "Tell us what happened, Michael!" While Michael can sometimes be hard to understand he responded in a very loud and clear voice, with great joy, "I GRADUATED!" The congregation was elated and erupted in very spontaneous applause. Michael was ecstatic and his joy was more than obvious as the Holy Spirit hovered among us and we knew God was in that place. Micheal then proceeded to offer the dismissal. It was indeed a delightful dessert to a fine Eucharistic Feast. Everyone went away satisfied. Sometimes we have to be prepared to serve up what is in front of us.
The other element of Joy for me in eating is in whom I eat with. To me eating is a social affair and it breeds the best forms of intimacy. In breaking bread with others we get to know them in ways that we do not in casual encounters. There is something about eating together that removes inhibitions and breeds conversation and indeed even dialogue. This is something that is common in almost all cultures as well. While the customs and the foods vary, the act of dining together as a way of nurturing relationship is cross-cultural. When we want to know someone better we invite them for dinner. It is indeed an act of intimacy and it brings us closer to one another, and that is another reason why I love to eat. I think that the church, here too, fits with this eating analogy. If we are to ‘be’ church in the truest sense of the word, then we must build a Eucharistic hospitality that moves beyond our hour-long masses. Rarely do we have 150 people over for dinner. So as church, we have to take hold of other opportunity to dine with those who dine with us at the Eucharistic Table. Let me offer an example here as well, also from St. Mark’s by-the-Lake.
Jane Cornett is our Director of Children’s and Youth Ministry. She is a very gifted person and she is devoted not just to children and youth, but to God and to the membership of her church in general. At the Feast of Pentecost – the birthday of the church – Jane had 12 people bake birthday cakes. For coffee hour that Sunday she had one cake at each of 12 tables in our church hall. Each table was labelled with a month from January to December and during coffee hour we sat at our birthday table. We ate cake with others from the church, and that day many of us got to know people a lot better than we had before. Indeed, many people met for the first time. I had many people tell me just how much it meant to get to know others that day. What changed from coffee hour the week previous? We had cake with people that were ‘new’ to us. While this idea was not a new one, it was a great gift that Jane brought to us. As Church we have to be willing and able to share our best recipes with one another. When something is filling and satisfying we should want others to taste the same dishes of love.
Today there were new guests at our Eucharistic Table and that is true many weeks that we have this feast. As church we have to ask ourselves if we are prepared for the stranger, the unknown guest, and whether we have made preparations so that he or she will be most welcomed at our table. When we dine together we get to know one another. How wonderful then it is that, as we feast on Eucharistic food, we welcome those we do not know and seek to know them better.
I love to eat – for all those reasons and for so many more. I love being church as well – great that these two things go so well together, especially in the Anglican Church.