When we eat together, we connect. Our Fresh Expressions missioner, Jane Gerdsen, has been focusing on this in her “movable feasts,” which bring young adults and others together in different venues around a meal to share their spiritual journeys and questions, and to discern the presence of Jesus in the context of the Eucharistic feast.
In my own ministry, I have learned that eating together is essential to spiritual discovery and growth. Why is this so? Perhaps it is the essential courtesy we show one another when we offer what we have. Perhaps it is because we cannot sit down at a table together without putting our weapons to one side. But these aspects of a common meal take us to an even deeper place: the realization that we are equally dependent on sustenance; equally embodied, equally mortal.
The word “communion” literally means sharing, so Holy Communion is not only about our relationship with Jesus but our relationship with one another. It is profoundly significant that Jesus’ final act before his arrest and crucifixion was to establish a sacred meal as the ongoing location of our common encounter with him as his followers. The ritualization of this meal may lead us to overlook how much it constitutes our covenant with one another as well as with Christ. Having died and risen with him in baptism, our new life is defined by our willingness to share our life in Christ with one another unreservedly. The word “communion” literally means sharing, so Holy Communion is not only about our relationship with Jesus but our relationship with one another. And this comes right back to the sharing of food. Jesus gives himself to us in the act of our sharing a meal in his name.
Ironically, the sacred meal Jesus instituted became ritualized because of human selfishness and thoughtlessness. Paul severely chides the Corinthian church for their behavior at communion. The rich people shared lots of food and drink, while the poor had little and were ashamed. “Eat your food at home!” says Paul to the rich (1 Corinthians 11: 17 and following). Paul’s admonition won the day: we long ago stopped celebrating the Eucharist in the context of a real meal (although some Fresh Expressions ministries are experimenting with reviving that practice (see www.praxiscommunities.org).
But what a shame if we lose connection between the Eucharist and the sharing of food! Taking communion together should be like sharing a meal. In receiving Jesus’ body and blood together, we should be recommitting ourselves to one another as fellow disciples, mutually accountable to one another and mutually available for forgiveness and encouragement.
There is much that is happening in the Diocese of Southern Ohio around food. Congregations and intentional communities are rediscovering the spiritual value of growing food to share; there is growing awareness around care for our bodies and our attention to what we eat as a spiritual discipline; and we are more aware of “food deserts,” that is, areas of poverty in Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati and Appalachia where there is no easy access to fresh and healthy food.
I cannot close without a word about Gabriel’s Place, a food-ministry center that is very close to my heart. Gabriel’s Place is located in Avondale, a very distressed neighborhood in Cincinnati. It occupies the buildings and land of the former St. Michael and All Angels, a parish that closed in 2008. We determined not to abandon ministry in Avondale, and spent two years researching what was really needed there. The unexpected answer was all about food: a place to learn urban farming; a place to learn how to prepare fresh and healthy meals; a place to gather around such meals; a place to train professional cooks; a place to incubate private enterprise related to food. With the support of many partners, we have established Gabriel’s Place on a sure footing.
This is just one example of what is happening all over our diocese, as we begin to connect the dots between relief of poverty, encouragement of local initiative, basic human fellowship, care for the earth, and Jesus Christ – who after his resurrection made himself known, and continues to make himself known, in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:35).