Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.
Lent is a time of preparation before Holy Week, the week preceding Easter. Though we are not entirely sure, Lent is believed to have begun as an intensive period of preparation for catechumens (converts under training) who will ultimately be baptized at the Easter Vigil. By the time of Augustine, this period of preparation for the forty days leading up to Easter became a practice for all Christians. During these forty days it became customary practice to fast from meats, except for on Sundays, to embody the same kind of preparation Jesus had undergone when he went out into the wilderness to fast and resist temptations for forty days before the start of his public ministry (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). While certainly not all traditions observe Lent--and many evangelical traditions merely practice giving up things for Lent rather than fasting from meats--Lent can be a crucial time of contemplation and resistance.
For the past two years I have been increasingly interested in the traditional observance of Lent by fasting from meat until the Easter Vigil. Since becoming fully engaged with Theologies of Food, I have found Lent to be an important opportunity for Christians to rethink their eating behaviors, diets, resources or economies. In my previous post where I offer a starting point for those interested in theologies of food, I explained that our greatest problem with food is that food has become commodified. I say this however with the sincere understanding that I too struggle with this poor relationship with food and as such I have been contemplating how Lent this year can be an opportunity for me to undo this commodification and get to know food in a different light.
I thought long and hard about what it is I could abstain from or what I can practice this year. Should I give up meat again? Should I only purchase local foods? Should I avoid fast food? Should I not eat out at all? Should I cook more?
While any one of these would certainly prove to cure a powerful Lenten experience, this year I have felt the need to keep it simple and begin with one of the easiest--or perhaps one of the hardest--practices with food: mindful eating.
Much like prayer, mindfulness at the table is a chance to consider what sits in front of you. To look at food and know it. It is a chance to silence the grumbling of ones stomach for a moment and to think about food differently; and to understand and acknowledge the connection between yourself, God and nature through the medium of food.
This year for Lent, I am keeping it simple. I am taking only two minutes (which feels much longer when you're hungry) to not dig in, to look at my plate, to be quite and to simply let God speak from the plate.
"By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
- Genesis 3:19
This is how we begin Lent. This verse is spoken at Ash Wednesday services all around. It calls us back to the Garden where the first food story was cultivated and where we first went wrong with how we consider food. And so my next forty days of mindful eating begins with a solemn contemplation of food. How I, just like Eve and Adam, took a second glance at food and thought of it as mine for the taking.
So you're sitting there hanging out with your friends. There's some decent wine, some laughs, some food and maybe some stories being passed around the table.
The doorbell rings. Surprise, it's Jesus!
You're like, "No way!"
He's like, "Yes way!"
You briefly exchange a hug as you explain how you "just can't believe" it's really him.
Then looking towards the fridge he asks, "so whatcha got to eat?"
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
So what's up with Jesus, huh? I mean, doesn't it seem a little rude to just show up unannounced for a get-together and raid the pantry? While plenty of people would be quick to say that this is just Luke trying to help the readers understand that Jesus' resurrection was bodily, I think that there's more going on here than just proving Jesus' resurrected body had a stomach.
Jesus is a foodie apparently. All throughout Luke's gospel, we find Jesus eating and feeding. Here's the general breakdown:
Luke 5, Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners.
Luke 7, Jesus anointed during a meal.
Luke 9, Jesus feeds the five-thousand.
Luke 10, Jesus eats with Mary and Martha.
Luke 11, Jesus criticizes Pharisees and teachers during a meal.
Luke 14, While eating Jesus tells a parable about eating to teach others to invite the poor to eat with them.
Luke 19, Jesus invites himself to a meal with Zachaeus
Luke 22, Jesus' last meal.
Luke 24, You know...
The portrayal of Jesus in Luke's gospel is one that kind of pictures Jesus as a social butterfly: going from meal to meal and mingling with everyone around. I mean, he's even called a "glutton and a drunkard" (Luke 7:34). Luke's Jesus was pretty much a party animal. Of course, Jesus isn't just a foodie because he likes to eat (though I'm sure he did); Jesus is a foodie because meals offer moments of transformational opportunities. Of these opportunities, one that is most profound is radical hospitality.
From the very beginning of Luke's gospel in 2:7, the hospitality of God is displayed by serving Jesus to us on plate (an animals trough). Later in 22:19 Jesus serves us himself as bread to be eaten. Yet, it's not all about ourselves being served but back in Luke 14, Jesus gives one of his biggest food-teachings about how we are to serve each other. Here, Jesus is eating at a Pharisees house when they start to talk about a great eschatological banquet feast in the kingdom of God. Jesus proceeds to tell a parable about who will be invited. He says, "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" will be the ones invited to feast. Jesus is saying that radical hospitality is a fundamental key to cultivating the kingdom of god.
This is the kind of message that meals convey. Meals offer an opportunity for grace, radical inclusion, and social justice for "the other" within society. Food is for Luke the perfect tool for bringing about the kind of "kingdom of god" that Jesus spoke of. If so much of Jesus' teaching could be understood and practiced through hospitable eating, then it makes sense why Jesus would come back from the dead and ask for something to eat. Jesus is reaffirming the message he had been teaching them by letting them become hosts to him; and he was after all an outcast, a stain on society that was presumably eradicated and killed off.
After all maybe it makes sense that Jesus would crash your party and eat your food. He's not just trying to eat off your own plate, but perhaps Jesus is trying to reaffirm his message of radical hospitality and remind the disciples that they can still see the kingdom of God cultivated in their community.