Tag Archives: food

Locating the Body of Christ

Sadao Watanabe woodprint. "The Lord's Supper"
Sadao Watanabe woodprint. “The Lord’s Supper”

In  a few weeks, on April 2 this year, my Catholic friends will observe Maundy Thursday, a holiday that commemorates, among other things, the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Perhaps because of the crowded calendar around Easter, that church established another feast day, Corpus Christ, dedicated strictly to the idea of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the communion elements, which will be observed on June 4.

I bring this up not to contend with Catholic theology, but to suggest an alternate reading of the gospel texts on which the ideas of Real Presence and Transubstantiation are based. In Luke 22:19, we read,

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The English teacher in me always casts a suspicious eye on pronouns. Several of these slippery words are lurking in that brief verse. Context demands that “he” and “me” both refer to Jesus. The two appearances of “it” can, I believe, only reasonably refer to the bread (although I suppose you could make an argument for “it” being the thanks Jesus gave. If that’s your reading, I’d like invite you over to break some thanks.)

So far, so good, but what about “this,” a pronoun that appears twice in this verse. What does “this” mean in verse 19? Traditionally, “this” refers to the bread that Jesus has just taken and broken. That seems reasonable, but is it the only reading possible? Before you answer, let’s agree that both occasions of “this” in the same sentence surely refer to the same thing. Therefore, we could read Jesus’ words to say, “This [bread] is my body; do this [bread] in remembrance of me.” I’m not exactly sure how you “do” bread, but this reading makes sense.

On the other hand, the nearest noun (actually a pronoun) to that troublesome “this” is “them,” a pronoun that refers to Jesus’ dinner companions. What if the word “this” refers to the gathered believers. Then we could read Jesus’ words as “This [gathering of believers] is my body; do this [gathering of believers] in remembrance of me.” That seems to make sense. And when we consider that Paul repeatedly speaks of the church as the Body of Christ, then it makes even more sense.

If you’re still with me, then you might be just as much a grammar nerd as I am, but really the minutiae of language is not my point. Instead, I would like to argue that the Real Presence that exists at the Lords Supper table is not to be found in bread and wine. Instead, the Body of Christ is to be found in the gathered and worshiping believers.

“Do this,” Jesus told them. Do what? I would suggest–and of course I’m saying this with the bias of this blog–that he instructed them and us to gather, to worship, to eat, to drink, and ultimately to live, as Jesus did, in the Spirit even while remaining in the flesh.

Betty Draper Indulges Her Cravings

Betty DraperI will confess that I am writing this out of a measure of ignorance, having not watched all of the Mad Men episodes released to date. However, with the first five and one- third seasons under my belt, I feel confident in claiming that Betty Draper Francis is a woman living in the flesh.

Certainly I could have just as easily laid that charge against her ex-husband, the complicated Don Draper, but since Betty seems to drag a great deal less baggage in her wake her flesh-focused life seems less justified and more lamentable.

Somewhere, in the years before Betty found herself swept away by Don, in the murky prehistory before Season 1, Betty would have seemed to have it all: Bryn Mawr education, a sturdy (if not wealthy) family, dazzling good looks, and, upon Don’s entrance on the scene, a dashing husband going places. What more could this  fifties woman want? Yet it wasn’t enough.

By the time we meet Betty, she, like her husband, is self-medicating with nicotene. Don might have been in the majority–something like 54% of American men smoked in the early 1960s–but Betty belonged to the roughly one-third of women who indulged in that habit. Betty also drinks, sometimes to excess. Yet tobacco and alcohol do not sooth the pains that this woman feels. During Season 1, she visits a psychiatrist, ostensibly because of psychosomatic numbness in her hands.

While Betty fantasizes at least a couple of times about being sexually unfaithful, her indulgence in this area seems decidedly amateurish compared with Don’s continual transgressions. Still, at the end of Season 2, she picks up a complete stranger in a bar and retires with him to a back room. This, unsurprisingly, does not satisfy her.

After divorcing Don and marrying the enigmatic (and somewhat dull) Henry Francis, she seems for a moment to be satisfied. But her misery continues, visited on her ex, her children, and husband number two. Eventually, the show inflicts the ultimate indignity on the lovely actress and presents us with “Fat Betty.” Food, though, fails to satisfy this woman. I dread to see what the remaining run of the show will drag her into. Betty the junky?

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I am Betty Draper–or at least I have been. At one time or another, we are all Betty Draper, vaguely unhappy in the flesh and convinced that the right combination of fleshly stimuli will scratch that itch. We might try food or liquor, smoke or sex. We might think that the right clothes upon this body, the right car in which to move it, or the right house for it to call home will do the trick.

More to the point of my interests, we might seek to sooth that bodily dissatisfaction with actions that seem like absolutely positive things. “If I can lose ten more pounds and get my six-pack abs… If I could only eat organic, free-range, humanely raised food… If I can get just my golf handicap down or my bench press up… If I can only run a longer race or a faster time, then everything will be great.” The fleshly idols of today are different from those Betty worshiped, but they can be idols nonetheless.

If I could counsel Betty, I would advise her that cigarettes or booze are poor choices. (We might differ on the latter, but that’s a matter for another day.) But her other wants are, in moderation and, especially, with the right outlook,  positives. It is the same for us. The inclination to eat right, to exercise, and to pursue other matters of the flesh can glorify God or they can simply be what they are for Betty: an attempt to fix a spiritual ache with a physical medication.

 

100% Perfect (Hebrews 5:9-10)

and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him  and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10)

Looking in the mirror today, I couldn’t help but notice my lack of perfection. My hair is receding in uneven and undesirable directions. My belly is advancing over my belt. My eyes struggle to focus. I’m a bit of a wreck. My quest for perfection will have to wait until–oh, who am I kidding? It’s a lost cause.

As I read today’s verse, a continuation of the sentence in yesterday’s, I’m struck by something. Jesus, if I read this correctly, did not start out perfect. That’s not to say that he started out sinful and the worked his way to sinless. I don’t see that sort of thing ever happening. Instead, I think it means that he simply wasn’t perfect at the outset. Like a tiny green tomato on a vine, Jesus began as potentially perfect. He suffered in the wilderness, resisting temptation. He suffered undoubtedly before that. His temptation may have continued after the wilderness, although apparently Satan left him alone for a time.

When did Jesus become perfect? I’m not sure. If that verse, the one saying, “And with that piece of suffering Jesus officially became perfect,” apparently didn’t make any of the gospels. What we do know is that suffering led to obedience, which led to perfection, which made him the proper vessel for my salvation.

No amount of suffering or obedience can make me the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but, happily, that job has already been filled. In fact, no amount of suffering or obedience will ever perfect me, but that’s okay.

Even as my body betrays the passage of years and my poor eating habits, my spirit, through suffering and obedience can become, if not perfect, less imperfect. Once again, if such a thing was desirable for Jesus, then it’s good for me as well. Perhaps tomorrow, as I look into the mirror, I can see myself as not better looking but a bit closer to perfect than what I saw today.

Suffering for Supper (Hebrews 5:8)

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

I’ve been suffering today. There’s been food sitting in front of me pretty much from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same. Breakfast, at the Hampton Inn in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, included omelets and muffins. Good stuff. Lunch was taken at Chick fil-A. For dinner, we had oodles of pizza and then ice cream at the Baskin Robbins next door. In between, lest we waste away, we had a steady availability of candy and shortcake.

Okay, that wasn’t really suffering. In fact it wasn’t suffering at all. Perhaps if I had eaten the fruit for breakfast, the salad for lunch, and a couple of slices of cheese pizza at dinner, I might have been both sensible and (to a degree) suffering.

I’d never really thought of it before looking at today’s verse, but it’s really on in suffering that we’re being obedience. Could I claim to be obedient when my host tonight said, “Get some ice cream, Mark”? I followed his direction, but in doing so I simply did what I wanted. Big deal.

We learn obedience when we do what does not come naturally, what chafes against the sinful spirit. We learn obedience when we roll out of bed at an unkind hour, deprive the body of the food that it would love to ingest, or read scripture rather than watching NCIS.

How, precisely, did Jesus suffer? Beyond the cross, I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t believe that the author of Hebrews referred here only to those eighteen hours. Perhaps Jesus suffered in rising at hours that his body resisted. Perhaps he suffered each time he had to smell the stench of life in first century Judea.

I don’t know that it matters. He suffered and learned obedience. If Jesus needed that learning, how much more do I need it?

 

Preparing a Table

In the year since I began attending my new church, I’ve come to a realization. Even if I didn’t see the name “Baptist” on the church sign, I’d know who these people are. They know how to eat; they appreciate the connections that can come when people bring their own potato salad or home-made ice cream or cheese cake and place it on a table for everyone to share. Food, well prepared by people for the people they love, stands like a universal bond. Perhaps that’s why the Psalmist talks of God preparing a table “in the presence of my enemies.” Despite differences, people can often sit down over food.

I mention this today after reading an intriguing blog by Albert Mohler. In “The Cooking Creature,” Mohler laments the loss of cooking in our culture. Yes, he’s a few years behind the whole Slow Food curve, but Mohler’s not exactly a foodie. He’s much more interested in the the culture possible by people bending their wills to the Kingdom of God.

Food, it seems to me, represents a marvelous point of common ground between Christians and a segment of American culture that has been less than friendly to orthodox belief.

Christians (and Jews) can point to Proverbs 12:10 and a tradition of wise-use Biblical teaching to demonstrate that we embraced animal dignity long before PETA and company came along. Granted, this might pull us away from KFC, Tyson, and the 10,000 per house chicken factories, but it will be done not based on some warm-fuzzy, Bambi-embracing, Radar O’Reilly philosophy. It’ll be grounded in the Word of God.

Mohler’s view of domestic cooking as a traditionally female pursuit–not a drudgery but an area of creativity and power–can counter the Jimmy Carter school that attacks traditional Christian teachings as oppressive of women. I can imagine an entire subversive neo-feminism that views microwave cuisine as far more oppressive than pot roast. Such a school of thought would start at the kitchen table to critique the dehumanizing effects of an array of cultural “improvements.” Why do we need to cook when Mrs. Stouffer has done it for us? Why exercise our minds when we have cable TV to entertain us? Why garden when we have Greg’s Lawn Service to mow and weed-eat and so forth?

Is it a coincidence that Christianities twin sacraments so embrace the essentials of life. After baptism’s symbolic portrayal of death and birth, we move to the communion table and eat. Christianity does not call us to enormous pomp and ceremony. It does not require complex ritual. One needn’t be enormously educated to follow Christ to a joyful life.  What must we do? Die to ourselves, be reborn in Jesus, and then (to make the most of it) eat a meal in Jesus’ memory. The Christian life is a simple thing. For all the people who spend their lives accumulating wealth and power, pursuing the ultimate experience, or chasing after some mystical wisdom, a Christian philosophy of food says, “Don’t waste your life on this trivia. Sit down and have a bite to eat.” What does Jesus promise in Revelation 3:20 but a simple shared meal.

In short, Mohler’s call to the kitchen could serve, by looking at this most essential of human activities, as an opening, a dinner party of sorts, at which various forces, long hostile to Christian teaching can come to recognize that its wisdom is not only life-affirming but, ultimately, life itself.