They say that food is a great component of memory, or so I’ve read.
And I don’t know how true that is, but it seems to fit well enough with
my experiences to bear with it the ring of truth.
Just this week I was out at lunch
and I ordered a slice of pizza, from a Pizza Shoppe
you know, where they sell the pink stuff,
and my mind raced to the time that I had that very sort of Pizza
Pizza Shoppe pizza,
with my kids when they were around three years old
when they made a mess on the floor…
and with the youth group at my old church a couple of times
after their annual fall kick off pool party.
Come to think of it, they made a mess on the floor too.
Or I’ll be trying to remember something,
stuck in the crevasses of my mind,
and what I find myself honing in on is the food:
My grandmother’s house:
ever marked by the canned veggies and jams in mason jars
food she made from the supersized garden in the back yard.
Atlantic, Iowa, where I lived as a younger child:
Windsor Pork Chops and Lime Green Jello at church pot lucks.
That trip to San Francisco. Right.
Lets see: We ate the first day at a diner down the street
And we found a great Thai restaurant
and an incredible breakfast place
where they steamed the milk for the coffee
and had farm-fresh, artisanal sausages,
with their hash bake
And the signature activity,
the bike ride across town, to a few museums,
over the Golden Gate bridge
that bike ride lead us to a place aptly named Fish,
where we sipped a beer and ate some seafood
as the California Sun warmed us on the patio.
Wedding night: I didn’t actually eat at our reception,
I think I was too much in a fog,
but I remember the IHOP after it was all done
a first meal with Brook of our new life together…
Taste. Texture. Aroma. The stuff that makes food pleasurable, palatable,
these things, at least for me, maybe for you,
seem to spark connections with the past
the experiences, the memories, the stories,
that root me and ground me and that make me who I am.
Funny how mundane things, normal things, can carry such significance.
Today we’re looking at what would become the central, seminal event
of the formation of the Hebrew People: the liberation from slavery in Egypt.
This Exodus is remembered every week, when the Shema is said, the
Hear, O Israel,
The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today
in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them
when you are at home and when you are away,
when you lie down and when you rise.
Bind them as a sign on your hand,
fix them as an emblem on your forehead,
write them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates….
take care that you do not forget the LORD,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery.
Recited at Shabbat, around a shared meal, in Jewish families, every week.
These Ancient Stories from Genesis and Exodus come to us from a LONG time ago
Years upon years upon years.
And the events that happened that set the Hebrew people free
free from Egypt and into the wilderness
where they would wonder, and wonder, and wonder
becoming desperate, relying on God to feed them
and guide them, and, ultimately
to unite them under their own
special code of conduct, or law,
these events have been remembered over that span of time.
How does that happen?
By the retelling of the story…which only centuries AFTER the fact
would find its way into written form for us.
The events of the exodus were remembered in the re-telling, true,
what we might call “oral history”
but they were also remembered
through the Passover meal that this text institutes,
the hurried feast of lamb and unleavened bread and bitter herbs
that we read about here.
And for generations these special foods, and the rituals that went with it
the shared work and busy hands preparing it,
the teaching of what the food signified
handed down from generation to generation
they bore a people through all sorts of trial and tribulation:
pogrom and exile and inquisition and holocaust.
It was around this Passover meal that identity was forged,
that a calling was understood,
that a people were crafted into existence. Its amazing what food can do.
As we look over our own table, set, prepared, and ready,
I’m reminded: Its amazing what food can do.
Consider, then, a story relayed to me by Glen Rainsley [i]:
Rachel had just moved to suburban Chicago.
Her new job drew her there,
and the promise of something she had struggled to find—
a living wage—
lured her into this area of affluence.
On Saturday, she emptied her car of pretty much all her worldly belongings,
filled one of the three rooms in her apartment, and settled in.
On Sunday, she donned her best dress
(a $3.00 Goodwill special)
and headed off to church.
As Rachel walked up the steps, she marveled at the manicured shrubbery,
the scrubbed stones,
the polished brass,
and, well, the manicured-scrubbed-and-polished people.
An usher handed her a program
and she sat down in a pew where a slight shift
slid her inches along the shiny wood.
She remained prayerfully still, and she noticed,
no one sat near her….
The place, well, it made Rachel feel……uncomfortable.
She imagined that the spiders
attempting to spin webs in the uppermost rafters
would be dealt with murderously,
and she wondered how severely she would be dealt with
for having mildly scuffed shoes.
The service: it had a well-rehearsed quality.
The choir sang flawlessly.
The organist played a magnificent instrument in such a way
as to drown out any imperfections in the congregational singing.
No coins clattered in the collection plates.
And the minister, almost certainly a model from Gentlemen’s Quarterly,
[This is how you know this story isn’t about your pastor….]
delivered a sermon that Rachel considered overly-polite spiritual fluff.
Yet, it was delivered in fine round tones.
Throughout the service, Rachel kept looking at the communion table,
set up with a vast array of ornate and glistening antique silver.
Perhaps she looked there out of her own hunger and thirst,
perhaps in the unknowing anticipation
of the miracle that would happen there that day.
It took place just after the minister intoned Jesus’ words,
“This is my body which is broken for you.”
He raised the symbolic loaf and pulled from the ends
so it would halve neatly where it had been pre-sliced part-way through.
But: nothing happened.
The designated pre-slicer had slipped up.
Now: the minister’s eyes showed panic; then he gave a sharp strong tug.
In the silence of that church: the loaf POPPED apart.
It was as though the Bread of Life uttered a groan.
The building’s perfect acoustics carried the sound to everyone in the pews,
and there came a collective congregational gasp.
The minister, frozen, held aloft the jagged-edged pieces of bread.
They spoke silent volumes about the sacrifical quality of Christian love,
and they extended swift forgiveness to the negligent loaf-slicer.
The minister said: “Do this in remembrance of me,”
and those words had new meaning.
The POP had been a JOYFUL sound,
a revelatory sound,
good news to all who heard it
good news of God’s sometimes intrusive, soul-shaking
always loving presence.
And Rachel: she felt at home.
The right meal, the right food,
makes us feel at home. Roots us, grounds us in something vital,
It is a way for our own individual histories to come together.
My own stories and memories,
mixed together with you and yours,
through the sharing of a morsel, or a cup.
So God calls Moses, and his brother Aaron,
and sends them to the Pharaoh.
They convey the message: Let my people Go.
And Pharaoh has a hardened heart, a stubborn heart.
The heart of someone who is in charge but doesn’t listen.
And so God warns him: God has heard the plight, the pain,
the crying of the Hebrew people
and God will no longer let them be oppressed.
Nine times is Pharoah warned, each time with an insufferable plague
the Nile turned to blood, a swarm of frogs, or locusts
felling of livestock, crazy darkness.
Pharoah keeps it up. The people cry out all the more.
Will nothing break this awful servitude?
And then it happens:
A plan is hatched to break free, but quickly!
Make plans! Pack up.
Here’s a meal plan: Lamb, Bread, Herbs, Fire
Eat it quickly, dressed and ready to flee
Don’t leave anything behind, lets go!
And the Passover of the Lord comes. The bound, the hardened, are set free.
Thanks be to God!
The people are urged to make THIS experience their CENTRAL experience.
Even TIME will be newly marked this way, the first of months.
And to do this, to enable the people to remember THIS story, THIS experience
throughout time and space,
in those times when THEY are in charge and in power
and when they are outcast, beat down,
on the outs
to REMEMBER THIS
they are given a meal shared, the meal of Pentecost.
For someone like me, its fairly easy to get stuck
in the ritualistic elements of this text.
What kind of lamb is required: one year old, male not female
either from the sheep or the goats
whatever that means to a city boy like me…
roast it a certain way: be sure to keep all the parts together.
Things like that.
But did you notice:
I’m particularly struck, each time I read this text in Exodus, by this:
A lamb is to be offered by each family, for each household.
Like today, this is the common unit of our society, the family
the way that the Hebrews, like us, mark groups and allegiances. In and out.
But this meal encourages people to look beyond those units
for those who NEED to be included, for those who might go without:
“Tell the whole congregation of Israel
that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family,
a lamb for each household.
If a household is too small for a whole lamb,
it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one;
the lamb shall be divided
in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.”
In THIS meal, the entire people of Israel are to be included,
not just the families big enough to afford a lamb,
but everyone is invited.
And those who have enough are called to share with those who need it.
The Passover has within its very institution
a strong word of inclusion—that all God’s people matter
that all are to be a part of the feast—
and a strong word of anticipation, or disruption…
the notion that this meal prepares us for God’s saving, moving,
inspiring activity to come.
It is through THIS meal that the Hebrew People remember what God was doing
at the first Passover
How God delivered God’s people out of oppression
and set them on the path of hope and freedom.
A people formed around holy space, God’s presence.
A people formed around holy food, everyday things, earthy things,
made holy because of the God who meets us there
and reminds us who and whose we are.
Today we’re celebrating our own holy meal, the sacrament of communion.
The sacrament of the Lord’s supper is recognizable around the globe
for its centrality to Christian worship and community.
Whether celebrated with polished silver,
or earthenware chalices, or well worn brass,
or, quite honestly, if they are lucky
Dixie cups and paper plates in some corners of the world
Whether taken with wine or unfermented grape juice
whether from little cups or from a shared glass
whether the bread is torn or cubed or broken…
This sacrament holds a central place in the life of our community.
It symbolizes something vibrant and alive and wonderful
about what it means to be a follower of Jesus,
what it means to be inspired by the story of God’s love for God’s people,
to remember our God as the God who frees the bound, and the hardened,
and about trying to embody God’s love and
in doing so, to fulfill the law and the commandments.
There’s no accident that the story of Jesus instituting this sacrament,
Jesus’ final, holy week, was at Passover.
At this table, this meal, at the heart of this sacrament,
all are welcome
everyone is invited
the multitude assembles and,
regardless of color or language or gender or creed, or identity,
or prestige or education or influence or income,
EVERYONE has a seat and all are fed.
It is amazing what food can do.
When we think about communion, it is often helpful to remember
that WE are not the only ones participating in it
whenever we celebrate the sacrament.
On every Sunday, around the world,
some Christian gathering is coming together to remember the supper
that Jesus shared with his disciples.
Some communities celebrate it weekly (or even daily!).
Some every month. Some every quarter.
But every Lord’s day, people gather somewhere to celebrate this meal.
This meal, shared in communion with the crucified and risen Lord,
a sign of community and acceptance and nourishment and solidarity
with Jesus Christ
and the one who sent him.
Here we dine together, one family, one table,
united in our faith in God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is offered for all sorts people: rich and poor, with a family or single,
polished or rough around the edges,
well-fed or barely having enough food to make it by
those who sense love in their lives on a daily basis
and those who LONG for a loving touch
a kind word
SOMETHING to let them know that they matter…
It is offered to help us remember that we are all in this together
and that, who knows, God might just be calling us to something new
not just down the road, but TOMORROW! TODAY! Gird up!
We might as well be on the look out for it…
because to miss it, to miss the opportunity
well, who would want to miss out on THAT???
To get back to the story:
Rachel marveled at how a simple oversight—someone didn’t score the bread—
how a simple oversight brought humanity and disruption
and a reminder to what was an overly comfortable
somewhat stiff community
and how at that moment, well,
everyone FELT what God was doing in the room.
At that moment, Rachel felt at home, included, welcome
not necessarily by the people there assembled at first…
though later she would be…
but welcome there by GOD.
GOD does that. And GOD uses a ritualized meal to help do that.
This meal, this common meal we shared together,
can disrupt our lives in some profound ways.
I hope that it does sometimes in mine.
I hope it does in the churches in our communities and around the world
that celebrate this sacrament today.
Because when it does, God does some really incredible things in our midst.
All are welcome. Have your traveling shoes on and your staff ready.
We’re going to dine together. Then……. who knows????
[i] Rainsley, Thanks Be To God: Parables and Prayers for Public Worship (Wipf & Stock: 2010).