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Food, Glorious Food!

Our relationship with it goes deep.

As I began writing this article, the clock downstairs chimed 11 a.m. It’s been about five hours since I ate breakfast and about an hour until lunch. Since it’s a Saturday, I have a couple of cook books open on the kitchen table to consider our options for dinner tonight (about eight hours from now).

Does that sound a bit fanatical? As though I’m a little too obsessed with food? Based on the magazines that arrive at our door each month, the shelves of cookbooks, files of recipes, and the assortment of vinegars, oils, salts, and spices crammed into the cupboards, I suppose there is no denying that I’m something of a foodie.

But there is more to this than a mild obsession. Our relationship with food goes deep. Since God, in his wisdom, made us embodied creatures who need to eat, food has profound human significance.

Beginning at the beginning, God created the first man and woman in his image, gave them their life’s work, and told them what was on the menu for dinner. “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be your for food” (Genesis 1:29).

The theme of food runs from this text through Passover and manna into the New Testament and all the way to Revelation 22 where the tree of life yields fruit every month forever on the riverbank in the New Jerusalem.

Whether we are well fed or facing starvation, food and eating are often on our minds reminding us that we have bodies and that those bodies have needs. God created us physical creatures in a physical world with physical needs: food to eat, water to drink, and air to breath. Take any of these away and we’re toast (so to speak). This was not a mistake on God’s part.

There’s a tendency, however, to think about physicality as a problem that needs to be solved. From Plato and from the East we get the notion that the body is a container holding the soul, which is the “real me.” As such, the body is viewed as an impediment to personal and spiritual growth.

Nothing, from a Christian point of view, could be further from the truth.

Adam was made out of both dust and spirit (Genesis 2:7). That, God said, was good. Human embodiment is not a handicap or a curse. We are not spirits rattling around in bodies needing release. Instead each of us is a unity of body and spirit. This is the nature with which a loving Creator made us and, thus, it is His gift to us.

If our own creation does not convince us of the goodness of our bodies, we also have the fact of the Incarnation. God the Son, in His first coming, was born the human child of Mary from whom He received His human nature including his body. If human bodies are simply containers that impede personal and spiritual growth, why would God the Son have wanted one of His own? This is an indication that rather than being bad, our bodies are a greater good than we imagine for Jesus shares human embodiment with us.

Notice I said “shares,” not “shared.” The body of Jesus rose from the grave and did not fall to the ground at his ascension in to Heaven. Jesus, King and Lord, sits at the right hand of the Father in glorified and yet human form. When He comes again, it will be bodily. A resurrected, glorified body, but a human body nonetheless.

Jesus tells us concerning our bodily needs, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things.” Then he assures us, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 7: 30-32). And our heavenly Father supplies them. As embodied humans, we depend on Him constantly. Food reminds us of that dependence.

“Dear God,” prayed Bart Simpson on Thanksgiving, “we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” That’s a crudely drawn caricature of our independent, individualistic, achievement-oriented culture, but a caricature, by its nature, includes more than a grain of truth.

We may not think about it much, but we depend on God for everything. He, as the 16th century reformer John Calvin wrote, “created all things for man’s sake.” We depend on God’s blessing so that the Earth yields us its fruit.

Beyond that, we depend on farmers, processors, truckers, stockers, checkers, baggers, and chefs to name only a few. We depend on their labor and owe them thanks as our benefactors, but even here we depend on God. He made each of them, gave them skills, and inspires them to use those skills for the common good.

And not to be macabre, but for the most part (dairy being an exception) we depend on the death of other living things. Pick an apple, pluck a blueberry, or pull up a carrot and a living thing dies before you can take a bite. The chicken needs to be killed, cleaned, and cooked before we eat its flesh. That bucket of Kentucky Fried contains the bodies of living things that died so that you and I could eat and live. And the same is true of the side of beans. Something has to die to give us life.

So it is small wonder that when Jesus left us a permanent memorial of His death that gives us life, He would choose to leave us food. “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Take, eat. Take, drink.” Regardless of our particular understanding of the Lord’s Supper, we agree that it’s about Jesus’ death and it involves food and eating.

Grain is reaped and dies. When crushed, it makes flour for bread — his flesh broken for us. Grapes are picked and die. When crushed, they bleed to make wine — his blood shed for us. The gospel is not simply words and concepts to feed disembodied spirits. The gospel is Word and sacrament. Words and concepts plus bread and wine, body and blood, touch and taste. Taken together the gospel is food for whole people — spirits and bodies united.

The bread and wine, as anyone knows when communion at church runs late, is not a full meal. They were not intended to be. They show us Christ now give us a taste of things to come. C.S. Lewis called them an antipasto, that is, an hors d’oeuvre not designed to satisfy our appetites for God, but to whet them for more.

That more will come when Jesus returns. He will raise our physical bodies and cloth them in glory as He makes all things new. “Blessed are those,” we read in Revelation 19:9, “who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

I don’t have any idea whether or not our resurrected bodies will need food, but the Bible seems to indicate that we will eat. Jesus ate fish after His resurrection to prove to His disciples that He had physically risen and was not a ghost (Luke 24:41-43). That would seem to indicate that the great wedding supper of the Lamb is more than a metaphor.

In the ancient world weddings were celebrated with elaborate feasting just as they often are today. But while our parties usually hours, theirs lasted days. The consummation of Christ’s marriage to his Church will, no doubt, put all of our feasts to shame.

Will there really be food? Perhaps I’m being a bit simpleminded, but without food it would not be much of a supper. Besides, the goodness of human bodies, the importance of food in the Bible (and I’ve only scratched the surface here), and the sheer joy of eating lead me to believe that the food and drink of the New Earth under the New Heavens will astound even the most exacting gourmet.

So three times a day (plus snacks) God gives us the opportunity to remember the goodness of our bodies, the Incarnation, our dependence on Him, Christ’s death that gives us life, His glorious resurrection, the Second Coming, and the final joy to which we look forward. It is all there in our daily bread. Bon appetite.

Copyright 2008 James Tonkowich. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

James Tonkowich

Jim Tonkowich is a scholar at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, D.C. He holds a degree in philosophy from Bates College and both a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Jim is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He and his wife attend McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, Va.


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