Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, of which we always read over the Easter season, remind me of yet another aspect of our lives we’ve had to give up over the past year -- sharing meals. Such a simple thing, yet so universally significant, isn’t it? Why? It could be for many reasons, cultural, archetypal, and even evolutionary; but the importance of eating together is so ingrained in our nature that even our main religious practice is modeled after it. The scriptures are also full of meals: from the first garden of Genesis to the last banquet of Revelation; from the dinner of Abraham to the meals of Jesus.
Jesus fed the multitudes with the picnic suppers, attended weddings, funerals, and religious feasts; he referred to growing food in most of his parables, cursed the fig tree, and gleaned the fields. Who was a real foodie, Jesus or the evangelists? Or are there deeper metaphors in play? The most well-known of Jesus’ meals, he took before the crucifixion. This was not a Passover meal per se, but one of the series of meals that led up to the big feast. In the actual Passover, of course, he could not partake because he was crucified just before it. So in fact, rather than eating one of the sacrificial lambs that were slain at the Temple, he became one. This, he had already indicated to his friends as part of their farewell conversation during the sombre meal that they shared the night before: all that difficult talk of betrayals, spilled blood, broken body... Pretty grim talk for someone who loved eating and partying; but, it was neither the Passover meal, as I already said, nor was it Jesus’ last earthly meal, as we sometimes take it to be.
The supper before the crucifixion does seem so final, so sorrowful that it overshadows in our minds, and in our church traditions, the meals that followed the resurrection. What was said at that supper made the brokenness of human relationships so indisputably evident; and what transpired after, has fully confirmed that Jesus’ predictions were right. How could peace and love ever be restored? How could friends ever gather over meals again, laugh, and look each other in the eyes? And yet, Jesus did eat and drink, and breath and touch, and talk for yet another 40 days - in the very same, very real human body: obviously, good enough to retain even out of the tomb, and possibly, quite famished as a result, which is why Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances consistently feature food. Jesus’ menu included at least the breakfast of grilled fish on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, the supper upon arrival in a village near Emmaus, and the piece of broiled fish when the two who had gone to Emmaus returned to the rest of the group.
Aside from fish, what did people even eat in those days? Apparently, their diet was varied enough: lettuce, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, and herbs; apricots, figs, melons, olives, nuts; cheese and yoghurt; large cuts of goat and lamb on big feasts, and pigeons more regularly. This is for those who were not extremely poor -- which many were in those days, if you think of all the day laborers met with injustice in Jesus’ parables, and of the unemployed who unfortunately had the free time to follow Jesus around, and of the practice of gleaning the leftover grain in the fields. But, one thing that everybody had, until all was lost, was bread. It might have been of mixed wheat and legume flour, but that’s the one thing that the poor and wealthy had in common. (You can read more about all these ideas here). So, while we do call Jesus “the lamb of God”, he called himself “the bread of life”: the most ordinary food, the last resort of the poor, yet a staple that even the wealthy would not eschew.
So, what do you think: if we spend a morning on Good Friday gazing and meditating on Jesus’ body on the cross, shouldn’t our Easter lunch -- and our meals over the next 50 days! -- be good occasions to meditate on our own bodies? Ought we not give thanks for them, as afflicted by health problems and underachieving of the beauty standards we impose on ourselves as they are? The crucified body draws us to itself in somewhat perverse ways, simply because it is familiar: gory, disturbing, repulsive, but not altogether strange. The resurrected body, on the other hand, isn’t as captivating to us because it is at the same time incomprehensible and ordinary. The children sometimes get it right: when my son saw one of my larger rosaries, he inquired whether there’s something wrong about displaying “the body of a murdered person” on our jewelry. This is also why the Orthodox crucifixes are much more stylized than the Western ones. But the point is, just as the resurrected body of Jesus isn’t some new, otherworldly body, the post-resurrection life is also not any other life, but this one - it begins here on earth, it still has the marks of the suffering, and requires the nourishment.
It is, indeed, the ordinary, taken-for-granted life -- but, it is reconciled with God and each other. Jesus’ words “peace be with you” signal reconciliation. If the Good Friday supper symbolizes broken relationships and contains the promise of Jesus to make them right, then the food received from the risen Jesus (our Eucharist!) is the symbol of restoration and eternal nourishment, like the water he promised to the Samaritan woman, which whoever drinks of, will never thirst again. And what is the “main ingredient” of this everlasting food: it’s sacrifice, death to self. Temple sacrifices were given “to God”, but eaten by priests and worshippers. We, too, can do things “for the glory of God”, but what brings him most glory is what we do “for the littlest one” of his people. “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot grow more wheat.” There would be no more bread if we ate the harvest without burying some of its seeds. Maybe, we could look at our own small sacrifices as investments, the gifts to our future selves.
With the coming of spring, new and seasonal produce will arrive in the stores, and eventually we might partake in patio dining and outdoor meals. As we plunge into all this, let’s continue to reflect on the sacramental significance of sharing meals. Let’s keep in mind the scriptural metaphors I alluded to, and most of all, let’s give thanks for the fundamental worthiness of our embodied existence that in the resurrection of Christ, God chose to nourish, rather than downplay. Thanks be to God.