I hope that you have had time to eat before coming here this evening as I want to talk about one of my favourite subjects - food.
On a basic level it’s something that is essential to our very existence but it also means a great deal more than that. For many of us meals are linked to our memories, for me terrible school food, I shall never forget spam fritters, who in their right mind would ever come up with such a concoction? I’m lucky enough to enjoy some rather good business lunches from time to time but I would still say my best meals have been those with ingredients from our own garden shared with family and friends.
Food can have many meanings pleasure, enjoyment, fusions, art, surprises, textures, flavours, aromas. From programmes such as Masterchef as well as from personal experience we know the hard graft that goes into preparing worthwhile meals and the emotions involved when they are well received, or otherwise. Preparing the best meal we can is one way to express love for those we share it with.
Sharing a meal means so much more than simply consuming food together as highlighted by the recent attention attached those dining with our Prime Minister described by some as ‘Cam dine with me’, certainly no such thing as a free lunch in this case. So who we eat with and under what circumstances seems to have potential for controversy as much today as it did when Jesus was scrutinised by his critics.
It seems that Jesus openly enjoyed his food, particularly the aspect of sharing and interacting with others. Elsewhere in the bible we will have heard how he fed the 5000, eat in the home of Martha and Mary, invited himself to dinner with Zachaeus and would have been a very welcome guest when he did considerably more than ‘bring a bottle’ to a wedding at Cana.
Even when he wasn’t eating it seems Jesus is thinking about food and its wider meaning, he tells us of the feast laid on when the prodigal son returns and of the beggar who wanted to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.
So the meals of Jesus represent something much greater than the food consumed. He was criticised for eating with tax collectors and sinners and his followers were told that they were not fasting enough. This was the very point as Jesus brought a new reality into people’s lives, centred around something tangible and something capable of being shared. Food and the actions surrounding it offered a way in which love could be expressed through our everyday activities.
The reading from Exodus foreshadows the Last Supper. In both readings there is urgency and a sense of building anticipation. Like when the Israelites were in Egypt, the paschal lamb is about to be sacrificed only this time the lamb is Jesus.
"Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father".
If you knew you were going to die in under a week, what would your priority be? A meal with those you love would probably be a good start. In John's Gospel, that means, for Jesus, taking time to gather with the disciples to share food.
That last supper is undoubtedly the most famous meal ever. The food and drink may be simple but controversy and meaning are interwoven into its fabric as it is rooted in denial, betrayal, a disciple’s suicide, a Messiah’s death, the body and blood of the soon to be crucified Messiah, and another example of love in the everyday this time focused on dirty feet.
We heard in Exodus that ‘this day shall be a day of remembrance for you". Passover was intended as a perpetual day of “Remembrance” which is mentioned in this passage, as well as in the reading from 1 Corinthians where we heard ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
When we take time to remember Jesus sacrifice we may also be able to accept the reality of our God who continues to feed us daily giving him to us as manna in our wilderness, food for our earthly pilgrimage.
With open hearts we can receive Christ through Holy Communion but he also receives us as we kneel before him and joins us at the table once more reaffirming his message of so many meals shared before, “I love you and you are special to me”.