Reformation Series: Eating & Drinking – Matthew 26:26-29
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
As a way to kick off a sermon series we hope will prepare us to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on Reformation Sunday, at the end of the month, even more deliberately than we’re used to in Lutheran circles, Pastor Aaron and I are working on some messages we hope will not only lift up what we think is special and unique and faithful about Lutherans, but that will also lift up and celebrate and call attention to the common ground we share with other flavors of Christians in the world these days, from whence Luther’s Reformation came in the first place.
We are letting this book “One Hope” guide and inspire what we’re up to – a book some of you spent some time with a year or so ago, in discussions led by Bernie Augenstein – and we’re beginning today with the theme of “Eating and Drinking,” which of course is meant to have us consider the place of Holy Communion, not just in our life together, but in the life of God’s church in the world, too. (Today happens to be “World Communion Sunday,” which seems like some kind of a holy accident or coincidence or something, because that wasn’t on our minds when we planned things.)
So … “eating and drinking” … makes me wonder, what’s your favorite meal? The best food you’ve ever eaten? Consider your favorite restaurant, maybe, and what you like best about eating there.
Rather than pass the microphone around – though I did consider it – I’ll tell you about a few of my favorite foods, meals, restaurants and whatnot. A few things come right to mind when I ask myself those questions. I think of Mama’s Fish House, by the ocean, on the beach, in Maui … Hawaii – a place recommended to Christa and me by several people as we were planning the last leg of my sabbatical a few years ago. It lived up to all the hype, in every way: the freshest seafood, caught by local fishermen who get credit in the menu for their work, and, of course, all the palm trees and ocean breezes you can admire while you eat.
I think about my favorite pizza place in Columbus, Ohio – Plank’s Bier Garden – in German Village. Half-priced pizza every Tuesday, and a patio full of picnic tables big enough to make room for whoever shows up made it the go-to hangout for me and my friends ever since we discovered it my freshman year. I even convinced Christa to have our wedding rehearsal dinner there – which was no small feat.
But one of my favorite meals ever, came as a total surprise to me. It happened exactly a year ago this week, actually.
Some of you might remember that I went on a hunting trip with Matt Moore (who some of you also know), my father, and some of his friends, at my cousin’s hunting resort in northern Minnesota.
Anyway, many of you know a hunting resort geared toward and designed for the express purpose of shooting to kill specific kinds of particularly beautiful birds – grouse and woodcock, in this case – is not a place you’d expect to find me. I don’t own a gun – and have no desire to. I prefer to see birds fly through the air, rather than watch them fall dead from the sky. And I haven’t eaten meat in any significant way, since sometime in 2009.
So, knowing that the point of our time at the resort was to shoot, kill and then eat these birds – which would be prepared by a professional, gourmet chef each day and night – in the company of other hunters, some of whom were there to kill not just birds but bears and deer and God-knows-what-else…you might imagine my dilemma.
I planned ahead and packed enough granola bars to sustain me over the course of my three days away, just in case, and I asked my friend and my father not to make a big deal about my meat-free diet or my bleeding heart to my cousin, to the chef, or to Paul Bunyan, Grizzly Adams, and whoever else might show up in the lodge at meal time each day. The last thing I wanted was to be the butt of all the jokes around the fire each night, or to be a pain in the butt for the chef, in charge of making all the guests happy. (Pineridge is called a “resort” for a reason. From what little I know about it, it’s as swanky as a hunting camp can or should be, as far as most people are concerned.)
Anyway, when Kevin – the chef – noticed, or was told (I can’t remember which) that I only ate potatoes and asparagus that first night, he made a point to ask me about it, privately, later, when we were out of earshot of the other guests – like we were inmates discussing the smuggle of contraband into the prison commissary, or something. Despite my request that he not bother, that he not go out of his way, that he not make a big deal about it, that he not make any special concessions or any more work for himself, on my behalf, that I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this, that I could live on side-dishes and salads for a couple of days, just fine…he assured me he would take care of me.
And the next night at dinner, he set down before me the most beautiful and delicious, gourmet vegetarian meal I have eaten to this day. Kevin made a special trip into town that morning – which is no small commute, through the woods and back roads of northern Minnesota, remember – and grilled a squash of some kind, like the rest of you would prepare a pork chop or a T-bone steak.
And as he explained what he had done and how he had prepared everything that was on my plate, he said that he knew a thing or two about cooking for a vegetarian because he had learned to do so by cooking for a good friend of his back home in Iowa. And he told me that it was his job and his pleasure to make my experience at the camp as fun and as full and as meaningful as everyone else’s. And he also explained how he didn’t just do it for me, that he made the same meal for himself that night and looked forward to enjoying it right along with me. It was like a subtle, secret, sacred show of solidarity or something.
Like I said, the food was delicious. But all of it was a most beautiful expression of Kevin’s duty and delight coming together to share kindness and generosity and hospitality and graciousness in a way that filled me – in every way – not unlike what we are meant to share and to receive when we gather around the table of Holy Communion to eat and drink as we do in this place.
It’s a little awkward that “eating and drinking” is our first theme for these days when we’re trying to lift up and to celebrate the common ground we share with others – especially our Roman Catholic friends and family in Christ. It’s awkward because we still haven’t been able to find the common ground we wish we could around the table of the sacrament.
But think again about your favorite foods, your favorite meals, your favorite restaurant, whatever. I imagine, even if your favorite restaurant became your favorite restaurant solely because of the menu, that you don’t go there alone very often and that you’ve made it a point to introduce it to a friend or two over the years, right? And think about Kevin, my favorite chef, in Minnesota.
Our call – our duty and our joy – is to keep setting the table in hope, with courage, and by faith that at this table we share the body and blood of our salvation in Jesus Christ, and that that is bigger than the signs that hang outside of our church buildings, and all the other ways we concoct to keep us sitting at different tables. And when we share that kind of meal, we are filled up – in every way – with kindness and generosity and hospitality and grace. And we will use it all to invite and to share that same sort of kindness and generosity and hospitality and grace with whoever shows up to receive it along with us.