Bedtime theology with the 2 yo...
Me: (Singing Amazing Grace)...that saved a wretch like me...
2 yo: Save? Who save?
Me: Jesus saves us.
2 yo: How Jesus save us?
Me: Well, Jesus loves us and will take us to heaven (that was way too simplistic but he's 2 and it's late)
2 yo: I don't want to go there.
Me: You don't want to go to heaven? Why not.
2 yo: I don't want to go, I don't like it.
Me: Well, how do you know? You haven't been there.
2 yo: I don't like the food there.
Me: You don't like the food there (laughing but trying not to). What kind of food do you think they have in heaven?
2 yo: Jesus food! (Giggles)
Me: You don't like Jesus food?
2 yo: NO! (Lots of giggles)
The adult comedic version of this is the oft-used quip that if the coffee isn't good in heaven, I'm not going. Or maybe that's the Lutheran version.
With a child's literalism, I think my toddler was conflating heaven and the physical church building, but I don't really know. He hadn't actually taken communion yet at this age, so he didn't know if the body of Christ, as we call the broken bread, was savory, sweet or cardboard-like. Who knows where his imagination was taking him, but it takes me to the myriad food imagery in Scriptures.
Eating is not unimportant to God, since Jesus himself does it, and creates a Sacramental act that requires ingesting bread and wine in which we mysteriously find the body and blood of Christ. He didn't have to do that. There could have been any number of other acts to do in remembrance of Him. We could have been commanded to wash feet, heal the sick, share with the poor (these are strongly encouraged). But these are not elevated to the sacred yet humble act of putting food and drink in our mouths, and swallowing.
Skim through the Old Testament and you'll find myriad images of holy eating and drinking. Moses and the Israelites were fed with manna and quail as they meandered toward the promised land, always finding just enough to satisfy. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a feast of well-aged wines and rich food filled with marrow (Isa. 25:6), which will be provided for all people. Ruth gleans the field for grain to feed herself and her mother-in-law, and it leads to to her future husband. Food brings challenges and judgment, too, in the Old Testament, too: think about the fruit in the Garden of Eden or the gluttony of some ancient kings.
Much of the New Testament imagery is about communal eating. The hungry are fed. A little bit of bread and fish miraculously goes a long way. The risen Christ cooks and eats fish on a beach. Early Christians debate whether to eat food sacrificed to idols, and take up collections for those without bread.
I'm glad these food images are in our scriptures. Food must matter to God, not just to meet our basic needs but even to enjoy it. There's a sacredness even in the profane pleasures of a steak cooked just right, a fish caught and grilled the same day, the perfectly ripe peach or the dark chocolate brownies pulled right from the oven.
In her book Take this Bread, author Sara Miles describes walking into a church as an atheist and having a transformative faith experience when she was invited to partake at the communion table. She is transformed by the experience of eating. She goes on to start food pantries across her city, her life made new after just one meal.
I've written elsewhere about my children's experiences taking communion, and I'm glad that they have, though things are different in a pandemic. It might take some extra effort to find the sacred in the meals we now eat, since they would be better shared in community and not just with our immediate family.
Still, I'm determined to find it. What is sacred about food now, when COVID prevents us from gathering at the Eucharistic table in the church building's sanctuary?
Recently, my now four-year-old and I made pumpkin bread for a friend living with cancer. It was sacred food. Our little family prays at dinner time and shares our highs and lows. It is sacred food. We put extra soup cans in our Instacart order for the food pantry. It is sacred food. We eat the frozen blueberries we picked together on a sunny August day. It is sacred food. We close our eyes and sigh in delight when we sip hot cocoa after hours spent playing outside in God's creation. It is sacred food. Perhaps the most important thing is to stop and call it that, and to do it together.
Note: Conversation occurred on January 25, 2019