Maundy Thursday – Food and Community

Most of you know how much I like food and exploring different kinds of food.  I put this down to my parents who, before Australia had become as multicultural as it is today, were always experimenting with food.  We were taught to sit and eat at a table, what we call table manners, so we could go to restaurants.  I never understood why McDonalds and Pizza Hut, when they came to Australia, were called family restaurants because every restaurant, for me, was a family restaurant.  It was at one restaurant I first fell in love with Chicken a la Orange and would order it whenever it came up on a menu.

It is no wonder I have a love of food and food from other cultures and my brother became a chef.  We have talked about it and we both think that it was this introduction from our parents that has given us a love of food.  I have to own, however, that including wine in that culinary journey was my own doing.  My parents drank that awful early Australian Moselle, which was reputed to have been made of sultana grapes, or a red out of a box.

Yeah!  I am a tosser.

Whenever I have travelled I have partaken in the kind of food they have in the culture I have visited.  I have eaten chili roti for breakfast in Singapore.  I have drunk kava in Fiji.  I have eaten taro cooked in coconut milk in Papua New Guinea.  I have eaten a seaweed called sea grapes in Fiji.  I have eaten snails in garlic butter in Paris.  I have eaten roast beef out of a Yorkshire pudding bowl in the oldest pub in England.  I have eaten kangaroo in a restaurant in Halls Gap.  At home I have cooked Italian, Thai, Chinese, French, Indonesian, Syrian, Mexican, Japanese, Indian; there are very few things I do not eat.

I list among those things I don’t like: okra, also known as ladies fingers, and a spinach like vegetable in PNG.  Both exude a clear mucous when cooked.  I don’t like the taste of okra, even in a tomato and onion sauce, but I can’t get used to the visual of a green leafy vegetable swimming in a wad of snot.

There is something about cultural identity and food and eating that food.  The Italians spend all morning as a family preparing and cooking and then, again as a whole family, spend the rest of the day eating it.  It is spoken of as the slow food movement.  The Chinese place all their food in the centre of the table and eat out of the same bowls using small bowls of rice to place the food on between mouthfuls.

However, in western culture we have allowed food to be something that just gives us energy.  We go into a store and buy prepared meals to quickly heat up in the microwave, or a drive through where we don’t even have to get out of our car and apparently eat as we drive.  We will sit and eat in front of the television with our food on our lap or tray.  Food has lost its place in bringing people together, creating and nurturing family and community.

I am envious of those cultures who continue to see food as a source of family gathering and community bonding.

Someone tried to define Australian cuisine some time ago.  Most people think that it is defined by using kangaroo and bush tucker foods.  In her recent book, Eat your History, by Sydney Living Museums resident gastronomer, Jacqui Newling, she confirms that, in the early settlement of white Australia, much of the English influence of our food was adapted by the available resources.  For example kangaroo tail was a substitute for ox tail.  However, I am in agreement with another argument that claims Australian cuisine may use bush tucker resources, but draws on the food of the multicultural society we have become.  Australian cuisine is the fruit of community and the source of community.

There are many arguments made regarding whether the meal Jesus shared with his disciples was a Passover Meal or was it was simply a regular agape, love, meal he would have with his disciples.  Participating in the sharing of food as the source of community is just what Jesus achieved with the meal he shared with his disciples.  Not only is sharing a meal part of the Palestinian culture it was also a part of the culture of a teacher with his disciples.  The important thing, however, is that he commanded us to continue to do it when we could.

Certainly we do it formally in the context of our worship whether we call it Communion, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Mass, Divine Liturgy, we share in the symbol of a meal with small piece of bread and a sip, or dip, of wine. This has significant meaning for us as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, his presence with us in these elements of bread and wine as if we were with him back then when he instituted these words with his disciples.

However, I can’t help thinking; these elements of bread and wine were then a part of a larger meal, so they are also symbolic of our larger meals.  That every meal we have at home is a communion when we share it with others – after all, where two are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.

This is why I place a high importance on sharing in meals whenever we get together.  It is around food that we connect, converse, and bond.    We say grace, give thanks for the food and company, as a part of our meal time.  If this is taking place, when it is possible, every time we eat a meal, then every meal is communion and where these things are happening we are also obeying Jesus command.  In this sense our formal communion reflects the informal communion of our meals that take place in our homes around our kitchen or dining room tables.

Sharing a meal is more than providing our bodies with a source of energy, it is the catalyst for the fullness of life Jesus lived, died, and rose again, for us to have.  Sharing in this Holy Communion as Jesus called us to do is a symbol, a means, and a reminder for us to grow as a community in Christ Jesus.

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