By Scott Baker
As we move from summer to autumn and as the leaves change and the days shorten, our collective minds turn toward harvest time. Festivities centered around food and the collection of the bounty of the earth is entrenched in almost every culture the world around.
Food plays a tremendous role in the Bible. In fact, the Bible starts with food. In the first chapter of the first book, God says, “And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food (Genesis 1:30).” (Some have argued that this is a good case for vegetarianism.) The Bible also ends with food as the inhabitants of the new heaven and the new earth all gather around the tree of life and eat of its fruit and the river of life and drink of its waters. In between, there is a smorgasbord of a feast to be had.
Multiple times throughout the Bible there is described a feast around the heavenly banquet table. In Isaiah we have a lavish description, “O this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined (Isaiah 25:9).”
Two of the three Abrahamic faiths of the Bible have food as the central ritual in their religion. For the Jews it is the Passover meal. Many years later, Jesus of Nazareth will re-image that same meal into the Lord’s Supper. In each occasion the ordinariness of the food is transcended and infused with the extraordinariness of the occasion.
Sharing food together is one of the most basic of human activities. In recent years some have argued that due to the lack of shared meals together, families and family health has suffered. Our busy schedules and lives have encroached on one of the most fundamental cornerstones of our common life. To quote Fredrick Buechner in his book “Wishful Thinking: A Doubter’s ABC”, “To eat any meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic need. It is hard to preserve your dignity with butter on your chin, or to keep your distance when asking for the tomato ketchup.
“To eat together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that’s left over, well, we’re in it together, or it in us. Maybe it’s most of what make us human and makes us brothers and sisters.”
Many of us are already looking to what — and perhaps even more importantly, how — we are going to eat Thanksgiving meals together. Some have already begun planning the menu, while others are weighing if they can safely gather around a table with loved ones in the time of a pandemic. Regardless of how you answer either of those questions, remember that the food consumed is all a gift from God.
In the Episcopal church there is an oft-repeated refrain as the offering plates are received, “All things come of Thee O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” It is all a gift from God. And if we recognize that, even the most ordinary meal can be transformed into the extraordinary.
THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.