The Rev. Patrick Keyser
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is an understandable yet fundamentally misguided temptation within the Christian tradition to limit God’s activity and presence, to specific places and moments in time. We see it most commonly in the idea that an encounter with God is restricted to church on a Sunday morning. We of course come to know and experience God’s presence in our places of worship, a truth, virtually anyone who steps into this majestic cathedral can acknowledge. Yet it is a grave misrepresentation to try to constrain God’s presence to our houses of prayer. King Solomon, famed for his wisdom, acknowledged this truth in his prayer of dedication at that first temple in Jerusalem, as told in the book of First Kings, where he prayed, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you Oh God, much less this house that I have built.”
A robust Christian faith must also acknowledge God ever at work in the ordinary things of life. Suffusing the seemingly mundane and routine with the possibility of divine encounter and transformation. This morning, I would like to invite us to consider just one example from our daily life, that of food and eating. And to ponder the possibility of eating itself as sacramental, an act that has the potential to reveal to us the presence of God.
At the most basic level we eat in order to survive. Our fragile bodies require nourishment. And so we must to eat. But to view eating as simply an activity required for our continued survival would be to miss something fundamental about food and eating. Food is meant to be enjoyed, to offer us not just sustenance, but delight. To enjoy a delicious meal is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Of course, it’s not just food itself that makes eating an experience of delight, but it is the sharing of food with others that can become a source of great joy and connection. In here, we touch on something that is deeply holy and deeply embedded within the scriptural witness. Scripture shows us that there is something particular about sharing a meal with others that invites the presence of God to be revealed. The gospels of course, show us that Jesus spent much of his time at table sharing food with friends, strangers and outcasts alike. Many came to know Jesus and his message of mercy and love while sitting around a table.
During these great 50 days of Easter, we are reminded as well that one of the primary ways Jesus showed himself after his resurrection was in the sharing of food. The gospel text before us today offers one such example. This text from the final chapter of John’s gospel recounts the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Now in John’s gospel, the risen Christ first appears to Mary Magdalene in that tender scene outside the tomb where Mary recognizes her Lord as he speaks her name. Later, that same day, Jesus first appears to his disciples who had shut themselves behind closed and locked doors and he offers them his peace. His second appearance to those same disciples comes one week later when Jesus shows Thomas the marks in his hands and the wound in his side, as he who had demanded to see and touch the wounds, cries out, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus had then already revealed himself to his disciples after his resurrection, but it seems in some way that they sought a return to life, as it had been before they first met Jesus. Seven of his disciples had gathered by the sea of Tiberius. And Peter declares that he is going fishing. By profession Peter had of course been a fisherman prior to that remarkable encounter on the shores of that same sea. When he dropped his nets and left everything behind to join the one who had simply said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter now returns to his work as a fisherman though, it would seem of course, that there would be no way of going back. He and the other disciples had journeyed with Jesus throughout his ministry, witnessed his teaching, healing and works of love. They had also deserted him in his time of greatest trial, but had then been greeted with the impossible news of an empty tomb. And then by their risen Lord himself standing among them. Nevertheless, that night Peter and the others returned to life as they had known it. And it is there in the ordinary work and indeed, struggle of their lives, that Jesus appears to them.
Those tired disciples who had caught nothing all night did not at first recognize the man calling to them from the shore. He was but a stranger. In truth, it remains a mystery why the disciples did not immediately recognize him. And especially in light of the previous post resurrection appearances, I’ve mentioned here. The beloved disciple, that disciple whom Jesus loved, is the first to recognize him when he sees that their formerly empty nets were now overflowing with fish. An abundance that defies all imagining is the sign that reveals to that beloved disciple that it is indeed the Lord.
Then Jesus does what he had done so many times before and gathers his disciples together to eat. He has already made the preparations. There is a charcoal fire with fish and bread. “Come and have breakfast”, he tells them. And then he serves them, taking the bread and giving it to them and doing the same with the fish. Gathered around that fire early in the morning, sharing breakfast, those other disciples come to recognize their host as Jesus, as their master and friend. Jesus made known to them, as together they eat the bread and the fish.
Now this scene on the shore calls to mind another moment in John’s gospel when Jesus gathered a crowd to himself by that same sea of Tiberius and fed a multitude with the meager offering of five barley loaves and two fish that a young boy had brought that day for his lunch. In the extended discourse that follows that scene in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus teaches that he is the bread of life that comes down from heaven to give life to the world. Jesus is himself food for our hungry and wearied souls.
And that necessarily brings us to the place where all discussion of eating and the Christian faith must lead – to the Eucharist, this sacred meal we gather to celebrate and share. This and every Sunday in remembrance of that meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. We know the story, he took bread and called it his body. He took the wine and called it his blood. Offering himself to us in this meal that tastes of the promised feast of God’s kingdom. Here at this table, we are promised that we will meet Jesus. And we can give thanks that this sacrament is a privileged place of encounter with almighty God.
But it also draws our attention and our focus to consider the broader connections between food and the divine. What is it then about eating in particular that makes it a moment of such holy possibility? We must begin by acknowledging that eating confronts us with our mortality, our creaturely limitations, as well as our utter dependence on God, and God’s gracious provision. Thoughtful and grateful practices of eating are grounded in the acknowledgement that all the food we consume comes from God.
The Psalmist puts it this way. “The eyes of all wait upon you, oh Lord. And you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.” To see our daily food and drink in this way, invites a continual gratitude and humility. Another explanation for food’s holy possibility is found in the way it reminds us of the deep connections we have with all of creation and with each other.
The food we consume of course does not appear from nowhere, but must be grown, cultivated, transported, and prepared before we enjoy it. To eat with intention, and with gratitude, is to acknowledge these complex and indeed costly processes, as well as our interconnectedness with all of God’s creation. It invites thoughtful reflection on the fragility and vulnerability of creation and our duty to care for it and not dominate and exploit it. In short, it invites us to see all of our eating through the lens of the Eucharist and to eat, not just gratefully, but sacramentally. To experience God’s grace and goodness as we eat with gratitude for that, which is gift and not guarantee. And then become ourselves food for the world freely shared with all.
God finds us and is revealed to us in the ordinary of our lives, in our work, in our struggles, indeed in our eating. Just as God has made, known to us in soaring, cathedrals, and churches when we gather together as God’s people to participate in our cherished and centuries old rituals. These are not in opposition, but instead complement each other as part of a life of faith that seeks to behold God’s abiding presence all around us. We must only ask for the grace to see God at work in relationships that bring us joy, in the tasks and interests that delight our hearts and nourish our souls. In the sharing of food with friend, family, and stranger alike.
There is a hymn that so beautifully captures this approach. In the words of its final verse that hymn called Draw Us In the Spirit’s Tether, puts it this way, “All our meals and all our living, make as sacraments of thee. That by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be. Alleluia, Alleluia. We will serve thee faithfully.” May all our meals and all our living indeed be moments charged with the possibility of encountering the presence of the living God in our very midst. Amen.