Saved by Food

holy-trinity-icon-smA sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018. The scriptures are Acts 3:12-19Psalm 41 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36b-48

Listen to the sermon HERE

How many times has food saved the day?

You’re at a business meeting or an interview and the tension in the air is so thick that it’s like a fog.  But then the food comes, and one of the dishes reminds someone of a restaurant she visited. It’s in your hometown and you’ve been there, and so you begin to talk in a new way.

Or, you’re seated at a wedding reception—you know you’ll be in your assigned seat for at least four hours—and you’ve just happened to have been placed between two people whose politics and religion could not be more different, and yet they’ve decided that this is the perfect time for one to convert the other—with you in-between.  But then a dish comes and reminds one person of the way his grandmother cooked.  And the other agrees, and the tone changes.

On a date, meeting the in-laws, settling a deal, or grieving the loss of a loved one—food often introduces some very mysterious, almost-mystical element into the mix.  Food has saved the day.  At least that day.

Food saves the day in our Gospel reading.  Sometimes we read scripture so formally that we forget the words reflect conversations and situations involving real people—people who got nervous, or got scared, or felt emboldened and confident, or felt self-conscious and unsure of themselves.  They are human.  And when Jesus is on earth, he interacts in very human ways.

Food does just that in today’s Gospel.

It is soon after the Resurrection.  The disciples are terrified at the sight of Jesus. They think they’re seeing a ghost. Jesus begins to try to reason with them, “Would a ghost have flesh and bones like I do?” But they still can’t quite take it all in. So there in the midst of the fear, the silence, the remorsefulness and regret, the weirdness and awkwardness of it all, Jesus asks for food.  They give him a piece of broiled fish and he eats it “in their presence,” right there with them, beside them, among them. With the conversation that comes around that shared fish, the disciples begin to see Jesus as their friend come back to life. They see him as the Son of God, come to share a message of love. They see him as the Messiah, who opens the way to eternal life with God. All of this—the opening of their eyes, their hearts, their minds, their future— is made possible over the sharing of a simple meal.

People are hungry. Physical hunger continues to be a reality all around the globe, and close to home, here in our city.  We do a little right here to help with that—the Saturday neighborhood supper, the Tuesday Senior Lunch, the hosting of Community Sustainable Agriculture, and other work (informal and organized) with food pantries and other programs.  Many of us do what we can to acknowledge hunger and try to do something to alleviate the problem.

But people are hungry and starving in other ways, as well.  Spiritual hunger also gnaws at people, sometimes to the extent that they settle for the spiritual equivalent of fast food— easy answers and fundamentalist thinking. The sophisticated in our culture hunger as well, but sometimes settle for a diet of cynicism, of busyness and compulsion, of reliance on other things to cover up the hunger pangs.

It would be overly simplistic for me to suggest that a simple faith in Jesus immediately fills the stomach—and simple faith in God does not necessarily fill the kind of hunger that results in despair, or violence, or suicide. But faith can feed.  Faith in the God who has raised Jesus from the dead can begin to give strength, to nourish, and to refresh. For many, such faith does feed, and it even enables us to offer the bread of heaven to others.

In today’s Gospel, the conversation around a broiled fish symbolizes the way that Jesus feeds us.

He feeds us intellectually. I know that many in this country and in Western Europe think that Christianity is anything but intellectual, but that is usually because of their own lack of knowledge about Christianity. Some of the greatest minds in history were led to ask penetrating questions and seek answers by their yearning for God. Yes, in some places, organized religion has stood in the way of this, but not everywhere, and not always. Jesus said,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22). Jesus feeds us intellectually, urging us to make connections between his teachings and our lives, between his commandments, and our own culture, between his relationships with people and the relationships we are called to make.

Jesus also feeds us socially. Through programs, through volunteer efforts, through agencies and missionaries of the church, we offer literal food to the hungry. But as those of you who volunteer with the meals through Holy Trinity Neighborhood Center or other agencies know, when you help to feed others, you also are fed. You are strengthened and nurtured. If you think of it, much of our community happens around food, whether it’s the breakfast at Midnight Express after the 8 AM service on Sundays, the coffee hour and receptions, the newcomers’ receptions, first Sunday potlucks after the 6 PM service, or casual social gatherings. We are changed a little bit over food, we’re more relaxed, we’re more ourselves. With other Christians, Christ especially appears in new ways in the breaking of bread.

And finally, we’re fed by Jesus Christ mysteriously and spiritually in the Communion of bread and wine, the sacrament of his body and blood. The Collect for the Day asks that God would open “the eyes of our faith,” and that’s what happens over time with Holy Communion. As we place ourselves before God, as we allow God to feed us with this little bit of bread and wine, our hearts grow more open to God’s presence, to God’s purpose, and to God’s love.

We have a wonderful reminder of “the eyes of our faith” being opened up through the mystery of food in the Holy Trinity icon, in our Memorial Chapel. As many of you recall, the icon refers to the appearance of three strangers who meet Abraham and Sarah in the 18thchapter of Genesis. God appears to Abraham in the form of three people—angels, they become in tradition. Abraham and Sarah entertain these angels—they make them sit down, and give them food. The three speak as one and they announce that Sarah will give birth to a child.

Our icon follows the famous one painted in the 15th century by a Russian monk named Andrei Rublev. It shows the trinity of angels at table.  The original only shows the three, as if Abraham and Sarah have stepped out to the kitchen. Our icon includes them off to the sides.  By tradition, the angels represent God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The three are in conversation, as though enjoying each other’s company, completely at rest and at home. Sometimes in these paintings and icons, there’s something else in the picture.  There’s food on the table.  Food is the centerpiece without being the center, but it calms and focuses and allows God to be present in the midst of fear, in the midst of doubt, in the midst of confusion, and in the midst of hope.

The sharing of food can bring about all kinds of changes. It can open up conversation. It can bring back memories. Food can link us with our ancestors, even as taste buds pave the way to new friendships. It can bring healing. It can bring transformation.

The Holy Eucharist is food from heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ, given for us to share and become one—one people, one body with Christ, one creation with God the Almighty.

May God continue to change us through food. May Jesus continue to feed us physically, communally, and spiritually.  And may our eyes, hearts and hands be opened, so that we might receive the good God would give us and, in turn, share what we have with a hungry world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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