FOOD FOR THOUGHT
This month is our Easter celebration, and after having observed Lent, we are now entering a season of celebrations. Our Easter Sunday will most likely be filled with delicious meals, and family reunions. I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on Christianity’s relationship with food, and table fellowship, and what that might mean in our current food poverty crisis in the U.K.
From the beginning, followers of Christ met around the sharing of meals. And even before Christ’s death on the cross, the Bible often refers to him sitting at tables and sharing meals with people. Of course, there was a politically rebellious side to these table fellowships, in his glorious inclusivity he would sit with the outcasts and the strangers, and in such turning down social systems of exclusion and rejection. However, these meals were also an opportunity for genuine encounter with the ‘other’, they were opportunities for deep spiritual and cultural growth. By regularly setting up community meals, Jesus demonstrates that these were not simply for personal gain, but for the nurture of others.
This culminates with the ultimate meal shared with Christ, at the table everyone is invited to. Christ offered himself as food for us, giving his flesh to be our bread, sharing our bread to be his flesh. And unlike the food we eat every day for the survival of our bodies, Christ offers food for our spiritual nourishment, as a transformational experience. Whatever our personal theology of this last supper, Christians around the world make the Eucharist the central part of their faith. But I’ve always wondered what kind of impact this language of food and nourishment can have on those who are living in food poverty. Because this last meal resonates of the most basic human practices necessary for life.
During Lent it is still common that people give up eating those extra little luxuries, which from the perspective of those in food poverty, can be incredibly uncomfortable to observe. Imagine finding yourself the parent of several children who need feeding, perhaps having to enlist the help of your local foodbank, possibly even having to go without food yourself for the sake of your own children’s wellbeing. Imagine then, going to church on Sunday morning, and hearing sermons and conversations about fasting, about giving up, or adhering to a certain strict diet. How alienating that must feel. And how much truer ring the words of the Lord’s Prayer “give us our daily bread”? Those for whom food comes from insecure sources, the liturgy’s constant reminder of God’s provision must feel all too hypocritical. Because despite a benefit system supposed to provide a safety net, and the hard work of local foodbanks, manna does not magically appear on doorsteps.
After all hunger isn’t a natural phenomenon, it’s a human made tragedy. Food poverty isn’t the result of a lack of resources, but rather the result of the privileged failure to share those abundant resources. When Christ decided to use a meal to share with humanity his last intimate moment, he didn’t give 90% to the 1% and left the rest of them to figure out how to find or grab the leftover; he distributed it equally.
One of the striking results of the recent outbreak of Coronavirus, is our country’s deep insecurity with food. Looking at the rows of empty aisles in food stores, the anxieties run deep. For too many, and for too long, the realities of being a few paycheques away from destitution, has generated inward looking individuals. Food injustice has prevented community and spiritual growth through table fellowship, because people simply cannot afford table fellowship. Alongside this, the U.K.’s version of the ‘American Dream’, where anyone can make it if only they work hard enough or apply resourcefulness; has also encouraged a most individualistic ‘everyone for themselves’ approach to social interactions. For me this is so remote from a God who fed the 5000, from Christ who gave his body for all of us to be our bread. When I see the row of open hands expectantly waiting/begging to receive their wafer, the body of Christ, I cannot help but compare these to the queues of people waiting at the foodbank. To the outstretched arms of refugees at the back of aids trucks hoping to feed their families. If the altar, where the bread is broken and shared, is sacred; why can’t our own dining tables become spaces of sacred encounters? Because food is for sharing, and God gives us our daily bread.
Revd Solveig Sonet