Yesterday I got a message from my mum that said, ‘About your blogs. In some of the early ones there are some cliff hangers…….. Do you need to reread and pick ‘em out and address them?’. Well, I didn’t know I was writing cliff hangers! 🤣 and I’m sorry if you’ve lost sleep wondering if/when I’ll get around to addressing them*, but I did as my mama told me (I’m good like that 😉) and I thought I would write something about my love of food and faith, particularly the combination of the two…
Food in quarantine began well (if you like rice, which I do), but it seems to be on a sharp downwards trajectory. The last two nights I’ve had to call reception and chase my evening meal because they’ve forgotten me. One night I had a vegetable that was cold and hard and soaked in oil (and looked far from vegan, in a kind of rude way!) and I have no idea what it was. Lunch today was some kind of vegan sushi roll but, even after I removed the cellophane wrapper, I’m not sure the wrap was entirely edible. And I, like many members of society, have a real Hanger problem.
Needless to say, food has been on my mind quite a lot!
And I’ve also been reading this great book, Signs of Life, by Rick Fabian (founding co-Rector of St Gregory’s of Nyssa Church, San Francisco). In the first chapter he talks about an ‘open welcoming table’, meaning everyone is welcome to come and receive their mass, regardless of the point they are at in their faith journey (not dependent on baptism, confirmation, or even any kind of professions of faith). He describes the altar at SGN, and the two inscriptions on it. As you enter the church you can see the first inscription, which reads ‘This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them’…a version of Luke 15; a dismissive statement by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, intended as an insult or slur, but beautifully transformed here into an amazing message of welcome. And then, on the other side, facing the font, it reads, ‘Did not the Lord share the table of tax collectors and harlots? So then – do not distinguish between the worthy and unworthy. All must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve’, a quote from Isaac of Ninevah. Here, all are welcome, and you are also welcome to baptism, at whatever point in your journey that is fitting for you. A wonderful, inclusive, follower-led, God-breathed, holy welcome.
This ‘open welcoming table’ hasn’t always been part of my experience, my worship style, or even my theology. I can quote all the scriptures that say people should wait to receive the body and blood of our Lord. And yet, none of them make sense to me anymore. We can’t wait until we understand fully, or are worthy, or we will die waiting. And, for me, how it is at the altar is how it should also be at the dinner table, and vice versa.
Something happens in the mass that unites those who are present. Something happens at a dinner table that does the same. I’m sure that’s why Jesus spent so much time eating together with people. And what Jesus does, so we should too. A quick google search reliably informs me that food is mentioned 90 times in the gospels alone and eating is mentioned 109. It’s big business!
Eating together provides a shared experience, breaks down boundaries, disarms conflict, allows people to cook and serve and share and chat. Eating is also a basic human right and should be equally available to all people, all the time. And it’s also SO MUCH FUN!
Jesus could have commanded his disciples to do anything in remembrance of him. Every time you watch a sunrise; every time you get dressed; every time you walk on the street; but he didn’t. What did he say? Every time you eat this and drink this, remember me.
These musings about the connection between the altar and the dinner table, the mass and our meals, this open table welcome and those who are hungry each day; this lot has shaped me as a person, as a follower of Jesus, as a priest and as an advocate for those who are poorest. It has led me to transform a grade-II listed building into, not just a church, but also a Kitchen and a café that is free. It has made food more important in my life, not less and each of these musings have led to action, actions that have brought me face to face with poverty and injustice and the beauty of humanity and the harshness of addiction and some awful smells and some wonderful humans.
My musings about food and faith have given me sleepless nights, early mornings, so much joy, huge amounts of laughter, floods of tears, a more authentic expression of faith (I hope) and a church with coffee stains on the pews and marks on the floor. They have taken me on the radio and TV and to San Francisco and Hartlepool, and the more I think and the more I learn, the more I am convinced that something *extra* happens when Jesus-folk gather around any kind of table and invite others to join them too, so I will keep doing it, always. Partly because it’s one of the few things I am absolutely convinced about with my faith, partly because it accidentally turns out to be a pretty good model for evangelism, partly because it is loads of fun, and mostly because Jesus seemed to think it was a good idea in 1st century Palestine and doesn’t seem to have changed his mind since.
So, as one of my all-time favourite writers said, (rest in power, precious Rachel Held-Evans):
“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more”.
Alleluia! All you have to do is come hungry…or hangry even! Let’s eat! 😋
*if you’ve been left with any other ‘cliff hangers’ drop me a line and I’ll do my best to address them! 💛