Readings: Genesis 14:18-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17
If you look around here today, you’ll notice that we come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Many of us grew up in families in which food, belonging together and hospitality were not just essential but sacred. I literally grew up in my mom’s kitchen; the rest of the house was an appendage where things were kept. The kitchen was for people and there we met, talked, entertained guests, worked, studied–ate together, of course–read the newspaper or filled out the income tax forms. The kitchen was a sanctuary and my mother was the priestess dispensing graces, receiving tribute and thanks, restoring balance with her Gracie Allen logic.
If you think of it, religion recognizes the sacred character of food: whether it’s bulls and goats or lambs, wheat, bread and wine, foodstuff was what was offered to God in Judaism as well as in other religions. Even today, the Passover sacrifice is represented by a roasted lamb’s shank on the Passover table. Festive meal and sacrifice are one. Those of us who grew up in homes where food was important instinctively feel the connection.
What is the dynamic at work here? What happens when I eat, when I consume a meal or feed someone? Quite simply, consumption is a way of assimilating the world about me and being assimilated to it. Consumption–whether a meal or a holocaust offered to God–recognizes that there is a common ground, the possibility of a real exchange between us: between myself and creation; between myself and you; between myself, as nature-made-conscious and our Creator. The self-sacrificing investment of God in creation is recognized, experienced and literally feeds me. That energy we call grace breaks open the crust of appearances and releases the depth and mystery within that nourishes spiritually. Every meal is sacred and could be a communion with God. The Eucharist is every meal in Kingdom come.
This consumption is far removed from our world of consumerism. Consumerism invites me to appropriate or hoard, not to assimilate. Consumerism, in fact, is a way to insulate myself from the world around me, to select what panders to my comfort and escape what challenges me. Ultimately, it can’t feed me, but can only feed on my spiritual vitality.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus says to the Twelve, “Give them food yourself”, he’s not proposing a problem or a test or an obligation. Jesus is inviting them–and us–to creativity. Jesus invites us to be energized by the joy of self-giving, to become part of that interchange of assimilation and communion. Think of Julia Child in the kitchen: ass that energy and engagement, all that urgency to connect, that drive to communion!
This exchange and communion, this common ground with our Creator in Christ, this creativity, energy and joy, isn’t that what we celebrate when we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ? The self-sacrifice we have already learned from one another, the daring to engage the world in all its complexity, where else do they come home and find fulfillment if not in this Holy Communion? Are we not, as St. Paul wrote, the Body of Christ, each of us a member of it?