Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On Food: An excerpt from Leithart.com

The following selection has been gleaned from Leithart and provides careful reflection on the central placement of the table in Christian life and biblical story. Setting a table can take you from Martha Stewart to Rachael Ray, but it is also a central part of how we live Christianly at home. Indeed, our dining rooms must always make space for one more at the table, and the back of our minds should reflect on mentally setting a place for Christ. The beauty of hospitality heals loneliness, restores honor and feeds the soul. Christ makes his home with us; He will also welcome us home. A taste of home is what Christ gives us in Communion. Let's share that taste of home with others.
The Eucharist has often been expounded upon in categories drawn from Aristotelian philosophy, modern phenomenology, or some other non-biblical discourse. While these categories can illuminate certain features of the Supper, it is wrong to think that these categories provide a more fundamental description of the Supper than the biblical descriptions. The Biblical descriptions of the meal should be fundamental.
Explaining the metaphysics of the real presence in terms drawn from whatever philosophical discourse does not get us closer to the reality of the Supper than the Scriptural claims that we eat spiritual food or that we remember the Lords death until He comes or that we commune with the body of Christ. Remembering the earlier lecture about OT and NT in sacramental theology, we should also say that descriptions like eating at the table of wisdom or keeping Passover or sharing a covenant meal are foundational descriptions of the Supper.
There are many dimensions to the theology of food in Scripture. First, food means dependence. We are eating creatures, who cannot live unless we take in something from outside of us. Ultimately, we are dependent upon God. The food we eat is dead, and only God can cause it to become life to us.
Second, food indicates our dominion. Adam was given the world to rule, and the world to eat. We are omnivores, who are capable because of the Creator's design to eat just about anything. At the Eucharist, we eat bread and drink wine, which are not natural products. Thus, the Lord endorses our dominion, our economics of bread-making, and brings it into His presence in worship. Food expresses our creativity, which is central to being images of God.
Third, food is for fellowship. We do not eat alone, nor do we eat merely for biological fuel. Sharing bread and meat brings us into communion, as all partake of a single loaf. At table, food is passed and shared. A meal always establishes an in-group and an out-group, and table manners express certain values. Food has not only an economic but a sociological dimension.
Fourth, food has always been central to worship. From the beginning, the sanctuaries in the Bible are dominated by food. Adam and Eve in the garden are offered the tree of life; Abraham builds altars, which are tables; there is an altar and a table in the tabernacle. Communion with God is maintained through food shared before Him, food shared with Him.
To make this more specific and textually grounded, let's look at the theology of food in Luke's gospel. This is a rich area, since Luke includes accounts of at least 10 meals (5:27-39; 7:36-50; 9:10-17; 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; 19:1-10; 27:7-38; 24:13-35; 24:36-53).
First, meals in Luke's gospel have a distinctly evangelistic thrust (5:29-32; 15:1ff). Meals symbolize the nature of Jesus' mission, which He explains as preaching good news to the poor and announcing the favorable year of the Lord (Lk 4). In the meals with Jesus, the poor and hungry are being restored to the fat of the land. Jesus' meals establish a circle of companions, those who share bread with Him.
Second, meals are centers of confrontation and controversy (7:34, 36-50). Jesus, his enemies claim, eats with the wrong people and eats and drinks too much. He accepts sinners.
Third, receiving Jesus at the table is tantamount to receiving Jesus Himself. Simon snubs Jesus when He comes for dinner, but the woman who is a sinner receives Him as a host should (7:36-50). Receiving Jesus' disciples is also a way of receiving Jesus (9:1-6; 10:1-16).
Fourth, table ministry is a training ground for the disciples. Jesus not only teaches at the table, but also puts His disciples to work at the table (9:10-17), and this is a central part of the apostles training.
Fifth, Jesus discusses discipleship in the categories of table manners (14:1-24). Jesus not only establishes a new circle of table friends, but also tells them that their conduct at the table is supposed to distinguish them from others. And their conduct at table is to model how they are going to live when they are away from the table.
Finally, the table is a place of recognition of Jesus, and a place of renewal in mission (Lk 24). The two disciples on the road to Emmaeus are fleeing from mission; by a meal with Jesus their eyes are open and they become witnesses to the resurrection. "Eyes open" reminds us of Genesis 3; these two disciples are eating the tree of knowledge in the right way (as James Jordan has put it), and are immediately going out to declare that Jesus is Lord (ascending to the throne-land of Eden).

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