PRIMARY BLESSING: Food and Drink
Exodus 16 : 2-4,13-20, and John 2:1 – 3, 7-11
Christmas is coming. It’s time when everybody thinks about food. Bake cookies, fruit cakes, maybe a time to start looking for a recipe for a different kind of stuffing. I love eating. I think that food and drink are the signs that God truly loves us. There is a good reason for the Christian Church’s most important ritual, Communion, involves eating and drinking.
I will tell you a story of a first communion. My father grew up in a Buddhist home in the beginning of the twentieth century in Japan. He became a Christian through an American woman who came to his village, and started a Sunday School. My father’s parents heard a rumour that this missionary could deal with any rambunctious and uncontrollable teenage boy. My dad apparently was one. So he was sent to Sunday School. Anyhow, he liked the Sunday School, especially the singing. He eventually became a Christian to the consternation of his parents. They wanted the American woman to fix their son, not to make him a Christian. One day, as my father told me, the missionary announced that a minister would come to baptise them and celebrate the most important dinner for the Christians. So the congregation was quite excited about it, and looked forward to the first visit of an ordained minister, and a special dinner. That day came but the minister was delayed. The congregation came hungry expecting a big feast. So they decided to have the dinner without the minister anyway. They didn’t have bread and wine. So they thought that sake and sushi would do. They had a good time feasting. By the time the minister finally arrived, he found a very happy and noisy congregation indeed. He was a Methodist minister who believed in total abstention from alcohol, so he was very annoyed. They had to wait until they became sober before they were baptized, and observed the first communion with bread and wine.
I think that this story tells us something about a problem of the communion service of our church today. As you know, another name for communion is “Eucharist.” It means thanksgiving. We celebrate the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ by having a symbolic dinner together. It is meant to be a joyful occasion. The communion was a congregational dinner in the early church, like the one we had a month ago. When it became a ritual in the established church by the Roman Imperial authority, we lost that sense of joy and became a solemn formality. I don’t know how we can recover that sense of gratitude and joy in our communion.
Humans always marked special occasions by eating together. We eat not only to celebrate happy occasions but also to celebrate the loving community of supportive people at not-so-happy-occasions but significant ones like funerals. We do this because food and drink always bring people together. A loving community always share a joy of life. There is a good reason why the Gospel tells us of the miracle at the wedding in Cana as the first act that Jesus performed in his ministry. Jesus providing wine for a party! God blesses a joyful occasion with food and rink.
Food used to be a huge source of happiness before. It is too bad that we don’t appreciate food as much now. Our society is so affluent that it’s not too much of a struggle to put food on the table. If anything we eat and drink too much. We have forgotten that food was a real blessing and a source of great happiness. We live in a society where the grace before meal became just a formality and does not have as much meaning as it used to. Abundance diminished pleasure of God’s blessing. Greed and gluttony spoiled blessing of God. All of us have weight problems and less appreciation of food. Our affluence made food a curse. What a great pity!
There is an expression in Japanese language, “Kappuku ga iidesune.” It more or less means: I see you got fat. You must be successful. Congratulations! Food used to be scarce and precious. People could not afford to eat so much to be fat. So not only in Japan but also in many countries, being overweight meant affluence and success. You ought to be congratulated.
When people of Israel were freed from slavery, they had to wander in a desert for many years in search of land to settle down. There was not much food in a desert. They became hungry, and complained to Moses, “When we were slaves, we were not free, but we ate meat. Now we are free but we are starving to death.” So, as the story goes, God provided food. God sent down quails for meat and some stuff that looked like marshmallow for starch and sugar. They were told not to collect too much, only what they needed. But some of them got greedy and stocked up for next day. But they found surplus food rotten and smelly next day, full of worms. Now today in Canada, food is plentiful and cheap. 30% of food is thrown out. We became greedy and glutenous just like the people of Israel in the desert. Overweight is now a major health hazzard. Food is supposed to be a blessing. But greed made us glutenous, and food has become a major health issue. This is how we turned the blessing into a curse. There is an important lesson to be learned from the Book of Exodus.
Doctors advise that three items to be avoided if you want to stay healthy: fat, salt, and sugar. But they are very important substance that our bodies require. Sugar is an easily digestible source of energy, fat is a way to store carbo-hydrate in time of need, and salt is needed to retain water in our bodies when engaging in a physical activity. We need them and thank goodness we like them. But now that food is easily accessible but we do not move our bodies as much, those essential ingredients became poisons that make us sick. They are still the essential requirements if we take them according to the need. What God told Moses was a lesson against greed and gluttony not against food. We can recover the sense of blessing of food, when we take the experience of the Israelites in the desert seriously.
There is a good reason why the church’s most important ritual – communion involves food and drink. As we partake of it, we must remember that food is a primary sign of God’s love. Let us drink and eat and be merry with our loved ones during the festive season and be grateful. As we partake the communion, let us remember to enjoy God’s blessing. And let us not turn it into a curse.