Jesus as Food: a reflection
1 Corinthians 11:27-33
I grew up in Pennsylvania in a house that my parents built on a lot which was formerly part of the farm my Grandparents on my Hosler side used to farm. Now the connection to the actual farm was rather tenuous. My grandparents, Marlin and Mae Hosler, stopped farming when my father was 10 years old. When they sold the farm they sub-divided about 10 acres off and built a house and woodshop. My parents, then, bought about 3 acres of this land and built their own house. This was when I was one year old. We weren’t farmers but I grew up in the trees on the edge of the fields. We did, however, have a large garden. The garden was surrounded by trees and was formed when they filled in the shallow end of a small valley to build the house and driveway. I don’t remember either particularly liking or disliking working in this garden. We had various chores—some were mandatory and unpaid (such as feeding and watering the various farm-themed pets—such a pygmy goats, rabbits, and chickens), some were mandatory and paid (such as mowing), and some were optional and paid—sort of bonus money if we felt energetic. One of these was picking rocks out of the garden. I would be paid 10 cents for every 1 gallon bucket of rocks I removed. Now, I recognize that inflation exists and that at one time 10 cents was a lot of money, however, even in the late 80s or perhaps early 90s this didn’t seem like a good deal to me. Or at least I was not convinced enough to do this very often.
Jenn on the other hand didn’t do much in the way of gardening while growing up. She reports that there was rhubarb growing in the yard at one house but that this was pretty much it and it pretty much the only thing to do was to cut it and eat it. I don’t want to attribute too much to these early experiences or lack of experiences with gardening but while I like that gardens exist and really like taking food straight from our garden to the kitchen where I enjoy cooking, I am not really drawn to gardening. Jenn on the other hand delights in it. We have a good rhythm with me mostly cooking and Jenn mostly gardening. One of the intersections between these realms is in the compost. The scraps from cooking the vegetables from the garden are put in a bin that can be spun to be composted. The compost is then put on the garden to provide nutrients and build up good soil. Two years ago a pumpkin worth of seeds ended up in the compost. These do not easily rot. The next year we had hundreds of small pumpkin shoots which needed to be plucked. On one occasion I counted and I believe I pulled over 50 that had emerged in the span of 24 hrs. This year the extra sprouts of choice are eggplants—though in much smaller numbers.
Recently I read an article in The Economist on seed banks while drinking coffee at a Cuban restaurant while passing through the airport in Miami. It was primarily about the need to invest in preserving seeds since there are many attributes which naturally occur that we have yet to discover in certain varieties. On the side it noted that seeds, if kept in the right conditions can last for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. My dad, who is a carpenter, observed a less dramatic version of this a few years ago. Some neighbors just down the road were farmers. The Bowlan’s grew and raised several crops and cattle. Apparently at one time they grew tobacco but some 30 years before had stopped. Tobacco is a labor intensive activity with much needing to be done by hand. Once it is ready to be harvested it is cut and speared through the stem in the field. These laths of many plants are hung in a particular type of barn to dry. Since it is picked green the drying happens almost exclusively in a barn. The barn is designed for the purpose with the ability for the walls to be opened for ventilation. The Bowlans had one such barn but it hadn’t been used for tobacco for several decades. When it was determined it was beyond repair they had it torn down. With the roof gone the rain fell where it hadn’t fallen before. And low and behold, a tobacco plant began to grow. It had waited there for just the right conditions.
This past week I re-read parts of Norman Wirzba’s book Food and Faith: a theology of eating. In a chapter on communion he quotes someone who quotes Albert the Great. He writes,
“In his treatise, On the Eucharist, Albert the Great once said that eating Jesus is like swallowing a seed that then germinates in the garden of the soul. It sprouts and grows producing good fruit, perhaps like the fruit that [is] described by Paul in his letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Gal. 5:22-23). Because it is the seed of Christ, we know that as the seed grows it will be the likeness of Christ, for all that is in the growth will find its origin in Christ” (Wirzba, Food and Faith, 165).
In the first part of our Love Feast this morning we will engage in confession. We will take some time to reflect on the garden of our soul. In the passage we read in 1 Corinthians we instructed to pay attention how we come to the Lord ’s Table. It says, “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Like my family’s garden in Pennsylvania we often need to remove the rocks. We need to add nutrients. Like the tobacco seed on our neighbor’s farm or the seeds that passed through the compost, the seed of the Spirit, of faith, may be waiting may be waiting to grow. Those of you who are familiar with Washington City Church of the Brethren’s usual pieces of our Sunday morning service may have notice that we didn’t have our sharing time yet. While I have called this next time confession, which we often associate with telling of the wrongs we have done, I envision this time of sharing to include both confessing of the areas where we have sinned but also where we are experiencing concern for sickness or tragedy as well as the things that bring us joy. As in gardens which both require the removing of rocks and the adding of compost for nutrients, our time confession will tend the garden of our soul by sharing joys and concerns; failures and successes.
Communion as eating: a reflection
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Communion is a strange way to eat. A little piece of bread—without yeast?—a little bit of juice in a funny little cup. A couple of weeks ago Jenn and I ran a trail race. It was a race through the forest and was long enough that we need to eat food throughout the run. Grabbing handfuls of Oreos, a half of a banana, maybe a quarter of a hotdog, often Pepsi—every 20 to 30 minutes—anything to get calories. Dashing—often more of a slow jog—through the forest with handfuls of food. Eating is normal but certain ways of eating are not. And Jesus ate with his disciples. Eating happens. We eat or we don’t eat. If we don’t eat we don’t live. It is simple. If we don’t eat well we will most likely not live well. There are ways of eating that give the eater life and ways that harm. The ways we eat not are not simply personal choices but affect our families—if we eat in a way that makes us unhealthy–and affect those who grow our food and the land on which the food is produced.
Through eating we take into our bodies. We take food into our bodies and it becomes part of us. The labor of the farmer sustains us—the nutrients of the soil and light of the sun give us life—through the okra, the tomato, the eggplant, through the grain. In this strange practice of communion we will eat strangely. In a few minutes I will pass out bread that I baked from grain that I purchased from a store that received it off a truck that was driven by a person from the building or a different building that was near to the field where the grain was harvested by a farmer or farm worker who had planted it months earlier and waited on the rain and the sun and by the grace of the Creator it grew from the little seed. We will eat this it with the words “The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ.” We recognize that what this strange meal means has been the subject of debate—at times violent—over what this bread is; is it the actual body of Christ? Does it represent the body of Christ? Is Christ’s presence near or in the bread or simply symbolized by it? It is a mystery, this strange meal. The communion, or Eucharist, is a particular meal, a particular way of eating. Eating (the regular type) can also be Eucharistic—that is, formed by the meal in which we take in the body of Christ. Wirzba writes in Food and Faith: a theology of eating,
“When eating is Eucharistic the salvific reality of Christ is extended and made incarnate in the world. When Jesus broke bread and shared the cup as the giving of his own body and blood, and then asked his followers to “Do this in remembrance of me,” he instituted a new way of eating in which followers are invited to give their lives to each other, to turn themselves into food for others, and in so doing nurture and strengthen memberships of life. Coming to the Eucharistic table, eaters are encouraged to learn that they do not need to eat only to their own benefit and glory. They discover what is practically required to share in God’s reconciliation with and within the world.” (Wirzba, Food and Faith, 154)
In the meal we are brought together. It is not irrelevant where the food comes from—where the components of the communion bread—the body of Christ—come from. The breaking of the bread represents the breaking of Jesus’ body. Whose bodies are broken in our fields? Whose bodies are broken internationally by the massive subsidies and trade agreements that making farming—a staple way of life—unfeasible for the farmers in Mexico? In the meal at the Communion table it is not irrelevant who is invited to eat. It is not irrelevant how we eat, how we prepare our food. These are not activist statements but they are not “spiritual” statements that are detached from what are commonly thought of as “social” questions either. When we partake of the bread and the cup we will participate in a strange meal that binds us with God and our sisters and brothers around the world who are also eating today.
Communion—Bread and Cup
The Body of Christ: a reflection
We read of Jesus washing his disciples’. He then says, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you and example, that you should do as I have done to you.” The Brethren took this quite literally and have continued to wash feet. Now, no one ever thought that this was the extent of what we should do as service—whereas Jesus’ washing was symbolic it was also useful for people walking in sandals on a dusty road. We have believed that in keeping this practice in practice we learn what it means to be a people of service. There is much more to say on this but for now I will invite us toward the time of feet or hand washing. As we do this I encourage us to think back. We have spent time in confession—a time of preparation. We then took the bread and cup—the body and blood of Christ—into our bodies uniting us with God and one another through eating. Now we are ready for service which is really preparation for the service of our lives.