Jesus Said to Them…, Easter 3 (B) – 1997
April 13, 1997
Jesus said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
The sharing of food with the disciples was one of the primary elements of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. He had supper with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. When he said the blessing and broke the bread, they recognized him in this act. On another occasions, after fishing all night, the disciples saw Jesus on the shore. They joined him there where he fed them breakfast.
Food and the resurrection are tied up together in the gospels. Scholars debate whether the church’s emphasis on the Eucharist led to feeding stories about the resurrection — or, if stories about food and the resurrection led the church to emphasize the Eucharist. We can leave the scholars to carry on that “chicken or egg” debate and simply recognize that the Eucharist is central to our experience of Jesus. It is so central that at the Baptism of new Christians, the sacrament of Holy Communion is their first experience of being one of the people of God. We can ignore scholarly debate, also, because we recognize that the most universal way human beings have of establishing and maintaining relationships is in shared meals. So it does not surprise common sense that Jesus, after the resurrection, would share meals with his friends.
This Third Sunday of Easter focuses on the eucharistic experience of Jesus’ resurrection. The season of Easter was always used in the early church as the time to instruct newly baptized people in the sacraments which they were now able to receive. This practice is still carried on frequently in the contemporary church. It is helpful, because all of us need to be reminded of the meaning of our sacramental relationship with God in the Eucharistic.
Eating and drinking together then, is the primary way of experiencing Jesus’ resurrection and the most universal way people affirm and experience relationship, community. Our Easter proclamation is that these two actions — eucharistic experience of Jesus and building relationship in meals — are deeply related. We found this to be true during Lent. We fasted and experienced hunger, which underscored both our need for God and our relatedness to other people – – especially to the hungry and neglected poor. We find it when we have celebrations of happy events in our lives and families: our first thought is to get together and eat and drink. We find it in the sad and tragic moments of our lives as well — when the grieving family and friends of one who has died must, it seems, have food and drink when they gather to mourn and to support each other. In the church’s liturgy we express the same relationship, when we celebrate the Eucharist at funerals and weddings, under the shadow of Jesus’ impending death on Maundy Thursday, and in the joy of his resurrection in the Easter Vigil.
We must eat together to be human and to become human. We must also, it appears, eat together to know God.
In the great story of salvation told in the Scriptures, food plays a very important role. Food and drink can be an occasion for sin, for separation from God and from others. Remember, the human fall into sin was caused by a misuse of food. The first murder of Abel by Cain was occasioned by a difference over which kind of food was a better offering to God. Israel’s rebellion against God in the wilderness was over their need for food — and their doubt as to whether God could set up a table in the wilderness. Satan’s first temptation of Jesus was to urge him to ease his hunger by turning stones into bread. Judas was revealed as Jesus’ betrayer when he dipped his bread in the dish after Jesus.
Food and drink are also involved in many of the wonderful and good parts of that story as well. Remember, also, that in that first garden there was a second tree, a tree giving eternal life. God removed the first people from the garden after they sinned, lest they eat of that tree also and as a result live forever in sin. Abraham welcomes God’s angels under the guise of three strangers — provides food for them, learns that he is entertaining angels unawares, and that he and Sarah will have a child whose descendants will be a blessing to all humanity. God, in spite of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness, feeds the people with manna and quenches their thirst with water from the rock. Jesus feeds five thousand with one boy’s picnic lunch of bread and fish. The culmination of God’s plan for humanity and, indeed, for the entire creation is described at the end of the Bible as a wedding feast which last forever and to which all humanity is invited.
When you and I share a conventional meal — and when you and I share in the Eucharist — all the parts of this story come alive. Above all, we see God redeeming food which we have used wrongly, so that it can be the means of grace and the hope of glory. We find every meal, no matter how ordinary and casual, having the potential to be filled with grace and to build and deepen loving relationships. We find in each Eucharist an even greater and fuller expression of relationship, which is the identity given us in Baptism — members of Christ’s body, children of God, and inheritors of God’s realm — an identity which is renewed and once again brought to light in each celebration.
The 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said that we are what we eat. We find this to be true in our own lives. Our identities, all of them, are shaped by our eating. Certain foods and drinks underscore our ethnic, our national, our generational identities: tacos, lasagna, Coca Cola (over fifty) Pepsi (under thirty,) hamburgers, sushi. Certain foods and drinks define the great holidays and important celebrations of our lives: champagne and cake at weddings, turkey at Thanksgiving, hot dogs on the Fourth of July, eggs at Easter. And then there is bread and wine in the Eucharist.
As we learned last Sunday, we need to know Jesus in his resurrection. We come to know him by faith, by the testimony of those who saw him resurrected, and in the lives of those around us. When we gather for Eucharist, we bring those elements together. In the shared meal called Holy Communion, our human capacity to remember, to learn, and to relate to others in meals aids us in knowing the risen Savior.
In this holy meal we know Jesus in his resurrection to be our Lord and God. In this holy meal we recall that we are the members of his risen body in the world. But this meal gives us one more aspect of God’s saving plan as well. In this meal we discover that we are called to do for all people what God has done for us.
As Abraham, in feeding three strangers, found himself entertaining the angels of God, so we are called to feed and nurture the strangers in our midst — and thereby meet God. As God fed hungry and rebellious Israelites in the wilderness, so we are called to meet the physical hungers and needs of other people, even though they are different from us or offend us or scare us. As Jesus fed the multitude with one child’s lunch, so we are personally to give out of what we have for the feeding of others. And, as a society, we are to redirect our nation’s material goods to feed, and educate, and heal a hungry world.
As the ultimate sign of God’s peace and the ultimate sign of the completion of God’s plan for the universe is a great banquet, so we are called to make our own lives, our homes, our churches signs of that great feast which is yet to come. We are to provide, for all people, the welcome into our communities which foreshadows the feasting to which the entire human race is called. We are, as members of the church, to be the body of Christ broken for the world, feeding all the hungers of the human race.
St. Augustine, a fourth century bishop in North Africa, put it this way in an Easter sermon: “You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and distributed; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the eternal charity.”
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