The latest in a long series of violent incidents transpiring between African American individuals and police officers recently occurred in my home state of Wisconsin. In the wake of these incidents, many details and factors are always repeatedly asserted and discussed. While I believe discussion is always helpful, discussion must not come at the expense of resolution. One question I’ve started asking more and more often as these incidents occur, and when other situations of human discord emerge, is “How might the Church’s mission to bear witness to Christ’s kingdom reality be carried out in such hostile or disunified settings?”
The answers will obviously vary, but I recently read a story whose themes echoed a mode of witness the modern Church has ceremoniously kept amongst themselves; a practice that, if extended beyond the meeting walls, could expand a reconciliatory spaciousness within the communities made minor through marginalization.
A few weeks ago in Wichita, Kansas, a group of the “Black Lives Matter” movement was planning on conducting a protest. While meeting beforehand with the police department to establish an organized and peaceful march, an alternative was reached: instead of a peaceful march, the activists and local police officers decided to do a barbeque together. They all came together to cook, hang out, eat some food, and to sit and discuss. By the end of the day, many of them commented that their time together had allowed them to reach a deeper level of awareness and understanding.
The world possesses a diversity of races, classes, ages, and skillsets. We have CEOs and maintenance staff, professors and students, bosses and employees, citizens and authorities, leaders and followers, friends and enemies. But one commonality we all share is our need to eat. No matter what one’s job or role is, at some point, everyone stops to eat food. In this diverse world, our shared need to eat makes us equal. Food brings us eye to eye. In this equalizing sense, food has power.
Food has the power to slow the day down and facilitate calm. Food pauses the pressure, invites us to relax, and look around the table. The smells and flavors move our minds from an agenda to an aroma of brotherhood. The shared stories of how Mom made it best unites our narratives. Chewing forces us to listen and learn the value and beauty of the other. Like a beverage washing it all down, the palate of our understanding is freshly cleansed. As empty plates form contented smiles, a meal’s end greets a new beginning. Food has the power to nurture reconciliation.
I don’t believe this is by chance.
Holy Scripture relates two significant moments that ripple through the timeline of world history with God’s salvation. Those two moments are God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, and Jesus’ death on the cross for the sins of the world. Both of these moments are memorialized with food. We know them as the Passover Feast and the Lord’s Supper. With the latter a fulfilling enrichment of the former, these meals are joint revelations of the goodness God is pouring into the world. In fact, the apostle Paul referred to these celebrations, which the early church celebrated as Christ-centered “love feasts”, as moments of both remembrance and proclamation. In other words, the Lord’s Supper activity is done both as an act of worship and witness to the redemptive work God is doing.
How does this relate to the hostilities being encountered within our communities?
If the Lord’s Supper is an activity of worship and witness, Christians might start considering all of their meals to be an extension of the Lord’s Supper, where God’s love and goodness can be carried over into all our dining. If God’s salvation has been commemorated with food, than food in general contains within itself a specific sense of God’s saving goodness. God’s choice to convey awareness of his salvation through something as universal as food demonstrates his desire to make salvation universally accessible. That isn’t to say that salvation is universally experienced, but that food is, and where food is served, so is an opportunity to sample his salvation. And one of the most distinctive flavors of this salvation is reconciliation.
The New Testament Scriptures already provide fluent examples of this. When Jesus publicly told Zaccheus “today I must stay at your house”, later when Zaccheus’ repented, he was able to declare “Today salvation has come to this house.”
When the early church distributed food to Greek Jews overlooked in the community, they appointed wise and godly men full of the Spirit to serve it so the good news would season the food that would refresh the marginalized.
The above Wichita story is a modern example of what this could look like. No doubt a Christian community that is willing to “seek the peace of the city” could provide many more reconciliatory examples.
This isn’t to say it’s the Church’s responsibility to fix the world but that congregations who embody Eucharistic living may find themselves demonstrating good news in a Christ-centered way that results in relieving some of the pressures that might otherwise explode into local hostilities. Eucharistic living helps show that coming together, preparing food together, dining together, cleaning up together, being together, and growing together is not a mundane activity, but a majestic reflection of how God’s salvation is shaping humanity into family.
The Lord’s Supper is a ritual exercise, but one whose spiritual and physical properties have the power to shake the foundations of division and discord plaguing this world and reconcile us again to God and each other in harmony and holiness.