I am very excited because tomorrow night I am having some friends over for a fiesta. A group of us have been meeting one night a week all summer for what we call “Spanish Cafe.” Half of us want to learn how to speak Spanish, and half of us want to kern how to speak English more proficiently. So we have been getting together on Wednesday nights for coffee, snacks, and conversation in Spanish and English. One of the members of our group will be going back to her country, the Dominican Republic, at the end of the summer. So tomorrow we are having a farewell fiesta. I just cleaned my house, bought the food, planned my menu.
One of my favorite things is to gather with friends around a table and to share a meal together, along with conversation, laughter, sometimes also tears, as we share the stories of our ives with each other. Some of my most memorable experiences are of friends and family gathered together for a holiday or a birthday. Even business meetings are more enjoyable when there is food involved. As one of the members of our leadership board says, “Fed people are happy people.”
It s interesting that most faith traditions also revolve around some kind of meal. An altar, in fact, is essentially a table. In the Hindu tradition, a person prepares a meal with prayer and devotion, then offers it to God as prasada, a spiritual offering. After the ritual offering of the meal to God, those who prepared the meal can then merge it back with the rest of the food s/he has prepared, and partake of this meal as an act of spiritual devotion. In Judaism, the Passover meal with its story of the Exodus, and foods symbolizing the different parts of the story, is one of the main festivals of the Jewish faith. Christians believe that Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples when he took the unleavened passover bread, and the cup of wine after supper, blessed them and gave them to his disciples, giving the Passover Seder a new meaning in what has become for Christians the Eucharistic meal. In both Judaism and Christianity the most predominant image for heaven is a great heavenly feast!
I remember hearing a Rabbi teaching that still in the Middle East today, covenants or agreements are “sealed” with a meal. He said that while we in the United States shake hands, or sign an agreement to make a transaction legally binding, still in the Middle East people do so by breaking bread together. He said with utmost seriousness, “When you share a meal with someone, it is a very intimate thing. You become one with that person. You would never think of breaking your word after you have broken bread with someone. That would be the utmost affront.” Most of the stories about Jesus have to do with food. In fact, Jesus was always getting in trouble because of his table fellowship. It is said throughout the New Testament that Jesus ate with tax collectors (traitors against their own Jewish people in Jesus’ day and culture), prostitutes, and various kinds of sinners. In other words, Jesus was saying that he was “one” with such folks, which I think is pretty remarkable. From Buddhism I have learned a great deal about mindful eating. Last fall I attended an event in Boston led by Thich Nhat Hanh and a large number of Buddhist monks and nuns. One of the things they did with us was a mindful eating exercise. Two thousand of us sat in a large assembly hall with our lunches on our laps. In silent meditation we listened as a young monk led us in a contemplative prayer, emphasizing how the entire cosmos is in our lunch:
the sunlight that made the vegetables grow; the water from the rain which nourished the plants; the soil filled with nutrients which helped it to grow; the farmers who planted it; the persons who harvested it; etc. Now I contemplate every meal in this way.
in my own Lutheran Christian tradition, we speak of God who comes to us each and every day through what we call “The means of grace:” that is, the Word and the Sacraments. The older I get the more I come to realize that every time we gather around a table, and share the stories of our lives, we are receiving God’s Word. Every time we break bread together, it is a sacrament.
I remember hearing a story from a friend who spent many years in ministry in Latin America. He said the people of his village could always predict which priests would have a short tenure among them and which priests would stay for a long time. How do you know? my friend asked the villagers. “That priest will not stay long,” they said. “Because he does not sit on the porches with us and share food and stories with us.”
The meaning of the word “Companion” is “One who breaks bread with you.” True understanding of another involves the intimate act of sharing a meal as well as sharing the stories of our lives.
Every meal is sacred. Every story is God’s story. As we gather around a table, may we see the faces of our gathered companions, knowing that in each face we can glimpse the face of God.
May you see God in all that you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 19, 2014
Photos: Sylvie with Cheerios, 2013; Anti-Racism Adventure in NYC with Gloria Dei Multi Cultural Ministry, and First Lutheran Church, May, 2014; Cathedral in the Night Worship at NE Synod Assembly, June, 2014, Springfield, MA; Dancing in a restaurant on the Isle of Crete, 2011; community garden, Farmington, CT, June, 2014; our backyard garden, Warwick, RI, 2008; the fish tacos Zach made me for Mother’s Day, 2014; First Lutheran Church picnic at Goddard Park, June, 2014; Thanksgiving dinner, Newport, RI, 2013