The table is set. My plate is piled full—juicy meats, creamy sides, tender bright veggies. The warm, heavenly aroma wafts up to my nose. I sigh happily. It’s time to eat. I take the first bite. It’s tender, juicy, savory, salty, delicious. I slip away into a happy reverie… and then my father’s voice snaps me back to reality, “Did you pray, yet?” I’m caught—deer in headlights. I manage to squeak out a muffled “Nawhp” between chews. My dad smiles, “Don’t forget to pray.”
If it wasn’t my dad, it was my mom (and sometimes my younger brother), always reminding me to give thanks before I chow down. Food to me is comforting, relaxing, satisfying, and always makes me feel at home. I love it. I love to eat. I love food. So much so, that I forget to think about where it comes from or what it means or that not everyone has enough of it. So, I decided to put my fork down, take a step back, and think about food in relation to my faith. This is what I’ve come up with so far.
Food is a sign of God’s grace, provision, and love.
From the very beginning, God showed love for humanity by providing us with food to nurture our physical beings. In the Garden of Eden, humanity was supplied by God with every “seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” (Gen 1:29). Later, after humanity’s fall and in the face of grievous sin, God continued to provide. Having rescued humanity through Noah, in this ‘remade’ creation, we were given all creatures as food in addition to what God had already provided (Gen 9:3). Further, having been redeemed from the shackles of slavery in Egypt, God provided manna and quail for an entire nation of ingrates and complainers (Ex 16). In 1 Kings 17, God sent ravens to feed the prophet Elijah, and in the Gospels Jesus miraculously fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish (Lk :10-17). Time and time again, God provides for the people, for us. This provision, this grace, this love, culminates in Jesus’ self-declaration that he is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). With this declaration comes a promise—an enduring promise that continues to this day—that we who believe in Jesus need not go hungry. Through the greatness of his love, our bodies and our spirits can always be made full.
Food is an expression of worship.
What then are we to do in response to this great love that God has shown to us? It is our responsibility to respond with thanksgiving, gratitude, and humility in the face of so great a grace. In the Old Testament period, food is frequently found in ritual sacrifice and offerings. Leviticus contains chapter after chapter of instruction on what animals and grains to offer and how to offer them and covers just about every type of situation you can imagine. Offerings of peace? Check. Guilt offerings: Check. Sin offerings? Check. Can’t afford a sheep? We have a special bird or a grain for that. You name it, God has instructions for it.
We are even instructed to perpetually remember God’s deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt with the Passover feast. God instructs us to eat as an expression of worship. In Communion, this same Passover feast becomes the model the contemporary church recalls to remember what Jesus did for us on the cross. The Bread of Life given for us is broken that we might have life (See Lk 22:19). We celebrate this as we worship in Communion. The food that God provides for the well being of the people becomes the lifeblood of the community worshipping the God who provides. All we have comes from God and to God should return.
Food reconciles us to one another and builds community.
Fellowship is among the greatest gifts we are given. I can think of no easier way to get to know someone or connect more deeply with someone than sharing a meal. Even something as simple as a few minutes and a cup of coffee goes a long way. There is something unique about sharing food. It’s a universal language. When you open up your home (or your wallet) to someone, take time to be with them, and share your life (and your food) with them, it brings you together. In Acts, the budding New Testament church went from house to house eating together and praising God (Acts 2:46-47). In the Gospels, Jesus shares meals with disciples and strangers alike. He even goes so far as to eat with outcasts and sinners, inviting them into community with him (Mk 2:15). There is something special about eating and sharing with one another. When we do so, it strengthens the existing bonds in our community and also gives us an opportunity to invite new people into fellowship. Who’d turn down a free meal?!
As we recognize what God has given us, and how we are cared for, we have the opportunity and responsibility to respond worshipfully. We are to recognize, remember, and glorify God for what we have. And we have a responsibility to share that with our fellows, with outcasts, with the broken, the hurting, and those in need. As God provides for us, we in turn should share that provision with others.
I still forget to pray before I eat. I’m working on it. But my hope is that I will never forget how good my God is. I hope that when I am warm and stuffed after a good meal, or when I have overindulged at a holiday, that I will not forget how much my God cares for me. All I have comes from God. It is my responsibility to remember this, to appreciate God’s goodness, to come together with my sisters and brothers in fellowship, to care for those who are in need, and to show God’s goodness to all.