Bible · Church · community · Worship

Taken, Blessed, Broken And Given

I haven’t done this before – put an extended quote in a post. But on Monday I was in a conversation about the place of food in thinking about the life of faith. After the conversation, I remembered that I had just binned some issues of a periodical, * one of which was all about food and faith.

I retrieved it from the recycling and started to read one of the articles. Here’s a taster of the article by Angel Mendez-Montoya:

Food Matters

Every act of eating implies transformation of some sort. The food that we eat is transformed into energy, vitamins, proteins, minerals and nutrients that our body and mind require for proper functioning.

Our bodies can be strengthened or weakened by eating or abstaining from certain substances. Eating food not only transforms our concrete physicality and experience of embodiment, it can also transform our state of mind and heart and even awaken our spiritual sensibility.

As so beautifully portrayed in the film, Babette’s Feast, food can be transformed into a lavish meal that not only awakens aesthetic sensibility, but also transfigures time and space into a heavenly banquet that heals all wounds and brokenness.

Eating certain dishes can trigger memories from the past, of beloved people, or cherished experiences around the table. Sometimes the actual food that we eat is not that important, for what really matters is that which transforms our hearts and spirits, the experience of gathering around the table and rejoicing with people that we love and that love us, immersing ourselves into the transformation of measurable time (kronos) into an immensurable experience of eternity (kairos).

Dr Angel Mendez-Montoya currently teaches theology, philosophy and cultural studies at several universities in Mexico City, and gives lectures primarily in Mexico, USA and Europe. He is the author of The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist (Oxford:Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).

Two Gospel Stories

I love the fact that the above description focusses on transformation. I love the idea that the encounters we have with one another as we share food and conversation have the power to be transformational. The central act of worship for Christians recalls a meal, the Last Supper, and our prayer is that this also is an encounter – with the risen Jesus – and is also transformational.
Christian worship has kept that Last Supper meal as the touchstone for worship, but I’m wondering if we might have missed something here ?

I’m sure it’s significant that the Gospels contain many accounts of meals. Eating is fundamental to life, and something that is, at its best, a shared experience.
Take the feeding of the 5,000 in Mark’s Gospel.
Jesus took the offering of bread and fish, prayed a prayer of blessing, broke the bread – and gave it to the disciples to share among the people.

I have put four words above in bold, because they appear again at the Last Supper – Jesus took bread, and when he had blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

The appearance of those same four words have linked these two passages from the Gospel, but the Last Supper passage has taken on a particular significance in being at the centre of every celebration of the Eucharist ( Holy Communion), when we remember Christ’s death for us on the cross. The words of Jesus that are used in the communion service are “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The way that the Eucharist has come down to us means that what Christians remember above all is the death of Jesus on the cross, and not his life. A quick look at the prayers authorised for communion in my denomination, The Church of England, reveals that there is nothing in them that relates to the life of Jesus. The same is actually true of the historic creeds, there is nothing that speaks of the 33 years between the birth and the death of Jesus.

When Christians read the account of the feeding of the 5,000 we may see it as secondary to the Last Supper, but perhaps we should take more seriously the fact that those two passages are linked by those four words – taken, blessed, broken and given – and focus our remembering not only on the death of Jesus, but also the act of sharing food with a hungry crowd of people.

This gives rise to two thoughts for me:
1. Maybe the words that we use in our services could be more holistic and include aspects of the life and work of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection. There are creeds that I have come across that do this (creeds that I have used, even though they are not authorised !), but I can’t remember a communion prayer that does. Maybe you know different ?

2. Maybe our communion services could take more account of the place of food and eating a meal rather than the symbolic wafer and glug of wine ? Would a gathering around an actual kitchen or dining table, sharing a meal count I wonder ?

* The Bible In Transmission: Food Matters. Summer 2013

Church · community · faith · Following Jesus · Theology · Worship

Re-Imagining Eucharist

OK, so this is two words. Having five word titles is a challenge I set myself, as well as being a web address (fiveshortwords.com) that was available! I think it’s time to allow myself to break the rule if I need to. Plus, as this is a post about rule-breaking, it seems appropriate.

So to Eucharist. The central act of weekly worship in many Christian churches. Eucharist was not a word I was familiar with when I was growing up. For the Christian community of my childhood it was known as The Lord’s Supper. Also known as Breaking of Bread. In other traditions it’s known as Communion, Mass and Eucharist. I’m using Eucharist here because it seems to be the word that is most used these days in a lot of Church of England circles. It’s the act of worship where we remember Jesus’ Last Supper, and his command to remember him by eating bread and drinking wine, just as they would have done at that meal.

In another post, I have written about the ‘High Hedge’ that separates those who are ‘in’, with those who are ‘out,’ in some churches. The highest hedge would mean someone had to be baptised, and confirmed in order to receive the bread and the wine.

None of the words that are used to describe this central act of worship suggest this high hedge. The Lord’s Supper suggests a meal, as does The Breaking of Bread. Communion suggests fellowship and intimacy. The word Mass (from the Latin Mittere, to send) is to do with being sent to be the God’s People For God’s World. Eucharist is from the Greek word meaning thanksgiving.

Maybe if we were being honest we should rename this family meal as Phractis – Greek for hedge. The word phractis itself sounds like fraction, which is when something is split into parts – in the case of Eucharist, those who receive and those who don’t.

A few years ago I heard Sarah Miles tell her story of coming to faith in Jesus. She had never been to church. She had never been taken by her parents. She was from a non-religious background. But one day she was passing a church and felt compelled to go in. When it came to the time for communion, she knew instinctively that this was something she wanted, and needed. As she held her hands out in expectation, someone put the bread into her hands. This was the start of her journey of faith.

As I read the Gospels, I see Jesus sharing meals with people without any restrictions. He eats with ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ people who were on the outside of the religious community. He knew that when you eat with people, connections are made. People share, not only their food, but themselves. The best meals are where we get beyond polite conversation to reflect on the big questions that our lives are asking us. Not every time we share a meal, for sure, do we ask these questions, but if we never ask them, then we’re not really sharing our lives.
What makes your heart sing ? What’s the best thing in your life at the moment ? Did you see the sunset yesterday ? How do I bring up my kids in this crazy world ? How do I put bread on the table when I’m out of work ? How can I look after my elderly parent as well as everything else I’m supposed to do ? How do I live with myself, when I know all the bad stuff that others don’t see ? ….. (you add your own question)

There is a ‘high hedge’ in the Gospels, but it seems to be all about following Jesus. That in the end is what divided people – into those who were willing to take a risk and see where it led, and those who decided to stick with what they knew. If there is a holy act that expresses this desire to be a follower, then it’s baptism. That’s the hedge.

But certainly in the established church in this country we got it the wrong way round. We made baptism available to everyone and anyone without fully explaining that this was a serious life choice.
And at the same time we said that you weren’t supposed to share in the family meal. There was a limit to the hospitality that we could offer.

It’s like if you invited some friends round for the evening. Come at 7, you said. So they arrive at 7 just as you are sitting down to your evening meal. And you ‘welcome’ them into the same room where you are eating, but you went on and ate your meal while they waited for you to finish.

What am I saying ? Throw out hundreds of years of church practice ? Pretend I know better ?

Just think how it would be if there was another way to share bread and wine. A meal that would be just as holy, just as mystical, just as life changing. A meal that just as clearly had Jesus at the centre, but which didn’t bar anyone from joining in. A meal that could happen anywhere, anytime, for anyone.

I wonder how many preachers, church leaders, priests and pastors would say Yes to this ? It might be threatening. It might be risky. It might be difficult to square with your theology.

And then again, it might be wonderful.

Grace and peace.