Sermon – Never Forget to Eat

1 Corinthians 11:17-26; Exodus 12:1-14                                                              

Farmville Presbyterian Church

September 10, 2023

– Telling our stories with food


I have been known to say that I am Presbyterian for the food.  In fact, some of my best loved moments in the church through my childhood and adolescence were those covered dish dinners.  You can imagine that for a non-picky eater those smorgasbords of grace were as close to heaven as you could come this side of glory.  There, I was surrounded by nearly every kind of food I might want to try, and I COULD try them all.  Believe it or not, there was always more waiting to be eaten.  Now, there are all kinds of theological or ethical and DEFINITELY physiological problems with that way of thinking.  Moderation is a virtue for a reason, right?  And while diabetes does run in my family, I did not have to help it along.  While I still enjoy a covered dish dinner with the best of them, it is different now.  I no longer have the need to eat some of everything, and I try to be smarter about that carb intake.  I guess all good things must come to an end….

Or do they?  As a whole, we need to eat (of course) and still do eat and even eat too much from time to time.  There is even something more to eating than just putting needed nutrients on a plate and consuming them.  We are more than what we eat.  There is something precious about the ritual of eating beyond simply sustaining life.

There are certain qualities that distinguish human beings from other animals.  One of the most important differences is that we can create stories.  It is not just language.  Many animals use language of some kind, but it is what we are able to do with the language that sets us apart.  Storytelling has been at the heart of what it means to be human since the beginning of humanity.  We have seen cave drawings from the earliest people that underline this point.  Our lives are full of stories that we need to share.  In fact, I think this is one way we reflect God’s image, also.  The Bible is the human expression of God’s story towards us: two sides of one story, the greatest story ever told.

Here’s the thing, though.  We can even tell our story with how we eat.  Or in other words, what story does our eating tell?

Jesus was assailed for eating with the rabble, the undesirable, the sinners, and the outcasts.  He loved eating with truly lowly, earthy, colorful people who would have enjoyed sitting and having a good time over food.  This is part of Jesus’ story that infuriated others who could not believe any legitimate teacher could associate with nobodies and worse.  He loved to embrace the least and the lost.  He also ended his earthly ministry through a meal.  At the Last Supper, he gave his body and blood to his disciples and to all who follow him as a visible, tangible reminder of his new covenant.  He remade our relationship with God right there in bread and wine.  He gave us a new way to think about our future through that meal, and he told us to never forget it.

Our meals tell our story, also.  Our eating says who is important to us and to whom we are important.  Our eating tells the story of our families with recipes, flavors, and types of food that have been passed down through the generations.  How and when we eat adds to our story.  How we respect food, how we consider food scarcity, nutrition, and table fellowship all say something about who we are to whomever wants to know.  One of the most significant ways that we can tell our own personal stories is, in fact, with our meals.

And you had better believe that if someone came into your time of eating and injured the story, you would feel that violation.  In some families, it is sacrilege to even adjust that recipe one ingredient.  In other families, only certain people are welcome to sit and eat.  In other families, the family must all eat together.  We care about how our story is carried on, and we want it honored and respected.  Our food and how we eat reflects us.  Our big holiday meals are a case in point.  Meals can lift us up and celebrate who we are; they can also remind us of what needs to be remembered.  Food ministries should always call our attention to the privilege of eating well and the need to make sure our neighbor has enough.

You can understand Paul’s exasperation, then, and his utter contempt for how those Christians in Corinth were denigrating the Lord’s Supper.  Some were arriving early and eating all the bread or drinking the wine.  They made the sharing of the sacrament into a farce or a free-for-all.  Can you be remembering Jesus as you eat the bread your neighbor was supposed to get?  Can you love your neighbor as yourself as you steal God’s grace from your neighbor?

God’s story of salvation in Christ Jesus is not lived out in gorging or drinking all the wine.  It is about how we share that meal in love as a community.  It makes no difference how often we share the meal if we understand what the meal means, what its story is.  John Knox, the father of Presbyterianism, advocated sharing in Communion every time they got together.  The story was that important to be remembered and shared.  It was central to their common life.  If we truly love the story, then every time we get together that story is at the heart of our gathering.

The original story-meal is the one that makes Communion even possible.  Exodus 12 is all about how to eat the meal.  God has not even done the last plague in the story, yet, and we already have all the detailed instructions about how to eat the meal in the years to come.  This meal, today called the SEDER or Passover meal, is right there at the front of special occasions for our Jewish sisters and brothers.  It is the meal that Jesus was sharing with his disciples at the Last Supper, so we are also grounded in the story and celebration of that ancient meal.  It is the story of God’s deliverance – first, through Moses, and then later, through Jesus for us.

The meal is fascinating and very dramatic, very theatrical.  I can remember as a child watching a dramatization of this plague in the Ten Commandments, and it scared the begibers out of me.  That is the tone of this story.  No one is fooling around, and God needs everyone’s attention.  This meal is life and death.  Plan the meal but eat it in haste.  Have enough for everyone but do not have leftovers.  Cook bread but not as thoroughly as you normally do – you don’t have time.  Eat but eat ready to run.  Slaughter the lamb but smear its blood around your door.  They must have been terrified.  This was a story that they had never heard.  They had no idea what to truly expect.  What they did know was that what was about to happen was going to be huge – worth remembering and worth retelling and worth re-eating every year.  Never forget to eat this story of salvation and deliverance.

As we always do with God’s story, though, we lose it in the rush and hustle of life.  We are a microwave society in a Dutch oven world.  Who has time to stop and appreciate what the story says?  Who has time to love the story at all?

No, the meal was not remembered.  No, salvation was not remembered.  You may recall that King Josiah found the book of the law, almost by accident, and realized how much they had let fall away as a people.  He says that the Passover had not been observed since the days of the judges, so during the decades and centuries of all the kings they had not been observing this vital meal.  They had forgotten the story.

We will be eating in a few minutes, but not everyone in our community will have that luxury.  We are here today because this is part of our story, part of who we are, part of our being community in Christ, but all do not feel welcome here.  We are here today because God has given us salvation in Christ Jesus and united us in God’s story, but this is a story we also neglect.  As we share in food, as we share our food, and we share our story over food, may we know God’s blessing in such a way that we always remember to eat together.

To God be the glory.  Amen.