I do not think I have ever eaten at Rally’s. If I have to eat fast foods I am more a Subway guy. But Rally’s “You Gotta Eat!” tag line sure beats “Februany.” I’m just sayin’.
Yes, you gotta eat! Sooner or later, if you don’t feed the body, you die. And I like to eat. Put it in front of me and it will be gone. Food is the source of much conversation – a source of dysfunction, and division. We overeat, we don’t eat healthily – but food is what brings us together as family, as a church, it keeps us alive. You know that old chestnut about Presbyterians: “Presbyterians have two kinds of luck: good luck and potluck!”
What you eat tell a lot about you. A meal can set you up for your day. The morning of the 8-hour hike up a mountain outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, my friend Amos and I had a huge breakfast at this retro-diner – eggs, pancakes, sausage – delightful. We needed to fortify ourselves for the journey up and down the mountain.
When reading the wonderful book by Isabel Wilkerson entitled, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, I read about African Americans heading north away from the Jim Crow laws. Of course in those days, if you were a person of color, you couldn’t stop at a Rally’s or a Subway, if there had been one. You couldn’t eat at the counter of Woolworth’s or enter most restaurants. I have heard stories about people from up here going down south to visit relatives who knew that once they crossed the Mason-Dixon line – things would be different, you had to be careful where you stopped. Who gets to eat – and where – tells you a lot about a people and a country. A repeated story I remember from the book, and it has been substantiated by many of you within this congregation, is that families would pack boxed lunches: fried chicken was a staple because it traveled well and was good. You have to fortify yourself for the journey through hostile territory.
So here we are today, about to set out on our Lenten journey. We have a bit less than 40 days until we get the feast of Easter. And like any journey, we have to eat to fortify ourselves. And as a Christian, sometimes the journey through this world of ours while often pleasurable and wonderful, if filled with pot holes and ruts. Sometimes it indeed feels like hostile territory still. It is hard to keep up the energy.
And before us is a table spread with a loaf of bread and a goblet of wine (in our case grape juice) and this is our meal proscribed by Jesus who adopted and adapted the Passover feast and the blessings of the cup and bread. We gotta eat!
So it is good, that before we partake of this meal we should consider what we are doing and why we are doing it.
We call it a sacrament which is, according to John Calvin; “an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of God’s good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward God in the presence of the Lord and of the angels and before all.”
In other words, this meal shows us God in Christ with us in body and in blood. It tells us who we are and whose we are. It identifies us as a strange people – sojourners in a foreign land. It strengthens us in our weakness. God promises us to be with us along the journey of life, calls us into community, and gives us a foretaste of the great feast to come, when we lay our burden down. Yes, what you eat and who gets served tells a lot about a people.
Christians call this sacrament by several names: Communion (we commune with God, with one another – we are part of a community; this is no private act of personal piety.) The Last Supper – recalling to us the last time Jesus ate with his disciples before his crucifixion. We call it the Eucharist – which is the Greek noun of the word “I give thanks!”
While always a thoughtful meal, and at times, like today, the somber, sacrificial side of the sacrament is present – but we are an Easter People, a Sunday people – and so there is always a hint of joy and thanksgiving as we break bread together.
It is just a little meal – a cube of bread and a dip of juice. Sometimes a little shot glass and sometimes a gulp of wine from a chalice. Nothing is worse than getting too much bread and not enough juice. And, of course if you grew up in the Episcopal or Catholic church you had those little wafers. I believe my wife, Deanne, used to play “Eucharist” with Necco wafers: those little, round, flat candies – I’d like the chocolate body of Christ, please!
But this little meal’s effect is huge. It ushers us into the kingdom – the radical, topsey-turvey kingdom – that judges the ways of the world: THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE!
At this table all are welcomed; Rich or poor, of whatever nationality, whatever sexual orientation, whatever gift, or challenge, ability, whatever status or education. One cannot say this about others tables of power, other tables set behind closed doors.
This meal is the great equalizer. Everyone gets more or less the same amount. Truly, at this table the playing field is level. In our world it is not so. The distribution of the goods is not equal. The distribution of access is not equal.
At this table we are reminded of how little it takes to taste God. In our world and in this society there is such over consumption not only of food but of everything else. We are driven mad by the need for more. Think of the serving sizes in many restaurants – more than you can eat. Unlimited buffet lines – sounds good but I can’t go back for seconds. Here at this table we see we have enough, a taste, it lingers. You don’t need much. More would be wasteful. More might take some from somebody else.
I remember when I was a boy, my mouth used to water to take a second piece of bread at the communion. It left me wanting more – at peace but not satisfied. And as we leave these walls today, we have had a foretaste, but that shouldn’t ultimately satisfy – for we enter the world where all is not fair, and we yearn to be free – we should want more of God and more of peace, and more of justice, and more of equity, and more of common decency and sense. It leaves us wanting more.
At this table we remember where we have come from and remind ourselves where we are going. A humble meal borne of suffering – but a meal which points to the promised land – to reconciliation, and redemption, to salvation, and peace. The words we use as we consecrate the bread and cup are pretty certainly the real words of Jesus, some of the earliest words … maybe these words and the Lord’s Prayer.
In the lesson from Deuteronomy we have the same dynamic going on. The people are now in the Judea and they remember their ancient roots: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation… when Egypt treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord…and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm… and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deut 26:5) This may be the earliest rendering of the faith of the Jews – a creedal statement, reminding them of their story.
So the people remember, bringing their first fruits to the priests as a sacrifice, and it reminds them to take care of the alien and stranger among them. The inward religious act drives them into an outward expression of justice and equity and hospitality and generosity.
That is the way it always is with real religion.
And so we come to the table – a journey inward, driving us to a journey outward. We too are a wandering people wanting to offer ourselves to some big work, some big, divine idea. We too want to be a part of a community, so we are not so isolated. We too want to be hospitable and gracious and just.
We offer ourselves to God, and what do we find? We find that God has already offered the first fruits of the divine self to us – God’s own body and blood – his own son, sacrificed upon the cross of love – God reminding himself/herself of the covenant to the world through us and we become united and whole once again.
The Lenten journey begins.
You Gotta Eat!