Meals and the Sacred

Two young authors, Andrew Camp and Shauna Niequist, are doing their part to make the church more aware of meals. Shauna has a book called Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, and Kris and I have swiped a few of her recipes, including a magnificent berry dessert. Here is my blurb:

Bread and Wine resurrects the table as the center of the home, the place where food and drink morph into fellowship and long memories. Bread and Wine creates a miracle — the miracle of our ordinary bread and wine becoming the sacrament of God’s transforming grace. This book transported me back to the kitchens of my life, back to the fellowship and joy and sorrow of what happens the family gathers round the table to be family. Churches need books about kitchen tables because they value the home and the family and the treasured long memories of family stories told at the table.

Andrew Camp connects meals to Vespers and — here’s the best part of it all — to Alexander Schmemann’s theology.

Giving thanks for the food reminds us that we are dependent on God for what is before us. While much human skill and ingenuity went in to putting the food before us, God was and is ultimately responsible. I am sometimes in awe of the variety of delectable food God has given purely for our enjoyment. Why do we need so many varieties of apples, tomatoes, potatoes? Did God give us red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers simply so that our food could be more colorful and to remind us of his extravagant love towards us?

Infusing the Family Meal with a Vesper like atmosphere would not stop with the giving of thanks. If the first great theme of Vespers is the reorienting of ourselves to the beauty and grandeur of creation, then the second theme, according to Schmemann, is the darkness and sin of this world. The family meal accordingly should be a place where the hurts, pains, and ugliness of creation are acknowledged. Even though the Family Meal should be a time of celebration and goodness, we cannot also hide from the fact that we are still in exile from Paradise, that all is not right with the world. Starting with the husband and wife, and extending to the children, there must be the freedom to acknowledge the hurts and sins of the day in openness and without shame. It is not easy to cultivate this kind of culture within the Family Meal, but I believe that eating together has the power to create a space where members of a family can feel open to share. As we eat the same food, we realize the level of the playing field – that at the core, we are all the same, humans created in the incredible image of God but who constantly sin and are in need of redemption.

Redemption is the third great theme of Vespers according to Schmemann. He writes, “The world is at its evening because the One bringing the final meaning to the world has come; in the darkness of this world, the light of Christ reveals again the true nature of things” (p. 75). As the darkness of sin is acknowledged, we move to remind ourselves that sin is not the final answer, but that through Christ’s death, death and darkness have been robbed of their power over us.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Rachel Monger

    The value of a shared meal cannot be underestimated! We are learning so much about hospitality and the importance of sharing food together, living in Tanzania. Realising that it is not about expensive food, amazing décor and table settings or the size of the dining room. We don’t need to wait until we have a bigger house or worry that we won’t have enough or that our food won’t be “good enough.” It is all about people. Relationships grown through the sharing of life in the sharing of food. In a small hut, waiting hours for a small dish of simple food to be prepared over a fire, as a guest, it is an honour to receive such hospitality. Hospitality is offered in the love and serving, in the friendship. Even if it is just maizemeal and cooked leaves, the shared meal is priceless.


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