What’s the first thing that God is directly quoted as saying to humanity?
“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:16-17
The story of the Bible starts with food, and the time where God restores all things to perfection is described multiple times as a banquet. In fact, the method of restoration that God uses – the sacrifice of the Son – is also linked to food through the bread and the wine of communion.
According to the Bible food was a part of human existence even before the Fall, and since then there are few things that have taken on the same multi-cultural significance.
Food is something that is necessary for humans to survive. Its availability and control is a big part of what makes some nations powerful and sees others struggling in poverty. Food ties us to our planet and to the other forms of life that we share it with.
This profound, fundamental thing that so many of us take for granted in the Western world could be talked about at far greater length than I have space for. Instead, I’m going to focus on three areas that link food and the Christian faith, and explore their significance a little more.
Food and friendship
Christian or not, people come together over food, but the Church is particularly good at using food to bring people together. Earlier this week the student community at my church in Nottingham came together over a bring and share meal and it was a joy to be a part of. We encouraged students to mix with people from other universities and other friendship groups as they ate, and it turned into a great evening, with people getting to know each other and growing closer as a big community.
I don’t know what it is about food that makes it so great for building relationships with people that you don’t know, and strengthening relationships with people that you do, but it works time and again. Maybe it’s just the fact that it provides a distraction and common ground to talk about, or maybe there’s something that’s fundamentally social about it. Sure, you can get awkward meals where no one really has anything to say, but when people are really making a go of it those don’t tend to happen.
As a church we’re called to be a family, and eating together is a big step towards acting like one. I love eating with friends from church, and I want to stress that that is just as much an expression of the body of Christ as a Sunday service. People get close to God and closer to each other over meals, and that’s exactly how Jesus commanded us to live.
Food and generosity
However, not everyone can put food on the table for themselves, let alone to host a group of friends. Did you know that around 500,000 people in the UK are reliant on food parcels to eat? And that number doesn’t count the thousands more who live on the bare minimum, or adults who go hungry so their kids can have a better meal.
Food isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. The early church got this. When the Jerusalem church sent Paul out, all they asked for was that he remembered the poor.
Have Christians in the West lost sight of this? I know I have. How many thousands of pounds are spent on churches across the Western world? How many thousands go on things that make the comfortable more comfortable?
As I right this, I’m challenged. I don’t know what I can do, but I know that I don’t do enough.
I mention this in the food article because helping people get food is such a practical thing that makes a real difference in the way they live. If Christians in the UK are looking to make a difference, then maybe start by looking at how you can help people in your area put food on the table.
Maybe you could volunteer with something like The Felix Project, that takes edible supermarket waste to charities that turn it into meals. Maybe you could head out on a soup run, or bring a donation to your local food bank. There’s always something that can be done.
Food and remembering
Before I finish, I want to turn to one of the most powerful images in the Bible: communion. The moment when Jesus told his disciples to break bread and drink wine in remembrance of his broken body and shed blood set in motion one of the most beautiful, powerful strains of Christian theology and practice.
Communion has been practised in all sorts of ways throughout history, and continues to be practised diversely today. For some it must be taken in a prescribed way; for others, there isn’t much governing the process other than having the right attitude towards Jesus. I am not here to say that any method is right or wrong, but I do want to say that I don’t think we go far enough with communion.
Whilst I think there is immense value in taking communion in a church service, I think that there is not enough emphasis on remembering Jesus every other time we eat and drink. Saying grace before meals is one way of doing this, but I still think there’s more. What does it mean to remember Jesus every time we break bread, or have a drink?
Food is a necessity for us, and I think that this is a reminder that we need Jesus even more than we need food. Remembering Jesus through food brings him into all sorts of areas of your life – into family relationships, into friendships, and into your time alone. What better way to ask us to remember him than to use something we do multiple times a day as the reminder?
Again, this is as much a personal challenge as it is a challenge to anyone else, and I’m not trying to say anything dramatic about communion in church being wrong or anything. I just want to encourage you to try to bring Jesus into your meal times.
Remember the life he won for us as you eat the stuff that keeps you alive on earth. Could there be any more significance in food than that?