[Context: Our meeting in Holy Week 2011 was a food-themed evening.
We began with a meditation on an onion (a sharp knife, a chopping board and an onion for all) taken from Robert Farrar Capon’s genius cookbook The Supper of the Lamb (Modern Library, 2002; first published 1969)… “Do not attempt to stand at a counter through these opening measures. In fact, to do it justice, you should arrange to have sixty minutes or so free for this part of the exercise. Admittedly, spending an hour in the society of an onion may be something you have never done before. You feel, perhaps, a certain resistance to the project. Please don’t. … Onions are excellent company.” So it proved, though we did not, as Capon insists, resist the temptation to feel silly. Instead of an hour, I think we took around 40 minutes to gradually dissect an onion, listening to Capon’s thoughts as we did so.
Next was supper, soups made from ingredients brought by the group. Each person had brought one ingredient and researched something about it (place of origin, how it was grown, processing methods, family members involved in its production etc). We shared the stories of our ingredients as we ate. Thanks to Emma and Suzi for pushing our thoughts this way and organising it all.
Then, to finish the evening, as we sat around the table there was more Bread Breaking, with this supper story…]
Tonight we have been paying attention – paying attention to our food, to where it came from, who grew it, to the stuff of the earth, feeling a sense of connection to the earth that sustains us, and to the other created beings we share this earth with – seeing that even an onion can teach us something.
And of course God is with us here – in his sheer delight in creation, and in Jesus becoming part of it – down here with us, the grass beneath his feet, the dirt between his toes; how he loved to eat and drink; to tell stories about seeds and farmers.
In John’s account of Jesus’ life and death, Jesus had just entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the enthusiasm of the crowds – many of whom had come out to see him, having heard he had raised Lazarus from the dead, when he said to his friends…
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” [John 12:24–26]
Famously, John’s version of the Jesus story does not contain a ‘Last Supper’ – at least not one where he takes bread and wine and says “This is my body” and “This is my blood” and shares it and says do this to remember me. But he does have supper with his friends in Passover week. And he does perform a dramatic symbolic action. And he does instruct his disciples to do something that will keep his name – and spirit – alive.
He gets up, takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, gets a towel and a bowl of water, and washes their feet. Peter famously protests – oh I’m so unworthy to have my feet washed by you – Jesus says, Peter you must let me otherwise we have no shared life…
And he says to them,
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” [John 13:14–15]
and a little later,
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:34–35]
“Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God” [Micah 6:8] – might have been the way someone else put it.
And in the other three gospel stories, when Jesus gathers for a meal with his friends in Passover week, just ahead of his death, the week we recall, remember and relive this Holy Week, he backs up the point.
He takes some bread – the fruit of the earth which will soon envelop him in a tomb – gives thanks for this life-giving food – and then breaks it and shares it with his friends, says “This is my body, broken for you.”
Being broken in pieces is painful. But only the breaking enables the sharing.
Life shared is life broken; life broken can be life shared. Later in John’s telling, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” [John 15:13]
“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
“When I hear bread breaking,” said a priest named Daniel Berrigan, “I see something else; it seems almost as though God never meant us to do anything else. So beautiful a sound, the crust breaks like manna and falls all over everything, and then we EAT; bread gets inside humans. Sometime in your life, hope you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope you might have baked it or bought it or even needed it for yourself. For the look on his face for your hands meeting his across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot or suffer a lot – or die a little, even.”
So we take this bread, thank God for it, break it and share it. This food, this fruit of the earth, connects us down to the earth, but it connects us with one another too. As it becomes part of us, we recognise we are part of one another. And it connects us ‘up’ to Jesus who gave himself up for us, and rose to be called the first fruit of God’s great harvest – a new kind of life – but that’s for Sunday.
Life shared is life broken; life broken can be life shared.
[Bread and wine are shared with appropriate words]