The Mysterious Meal

Americans like to eat. For that matter the whole world likes to eat. There is no doubt we know more about foods than at any other time in history. There isn’t much mystery around food We know all about the types of food, the effects of food, amount of food consumed by an individual, flavoring of food, contents of food, preparation of food, dangers of food, digestion of food, the joy of food, the need for more food, and the competitions around food. You heard me right,eating is now recreational sport.

Just this summer Joey Chestnut ate 66 hotdogs and buns in 12 minutes to surpass the previous world record. "He's unbelievable - he just keeps on going," said Ryan Nerz, who works for Major League Eating, which he describes as "a world governing board for all stomach-centric sports." (click here for more info on Joey.) I imagine if our schedules keep going like they have been around the US, more of us will probably be able to keep pace with Joey.

Forget just meal times, we love eating anytime. 9 out of 10 of us Americans consider ourselves snackers (USA Today). Granted, we do have the British to thank in part for that, that old “tea time” and all. I’ll never forget the young boy who came up to me after his first time taking communion. His family hadn’t been involved in church before and he came running up to me, gave me a hug, and said, “Pastor Ken! I loved the snack in church today!” While some may feel uncomfortable with his words, this is the faith of a child, one who met God mysteriously in “the snack.”

But that “snack” was set aside by Jesus and honored by the Church as a Sacrament, a mystery. The first Eucharist or communion took place before Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus used elements of the Passover meal, a meal of remembrance for the Jewish people. It was a chance to re-tell how God had intervened on behalf of the Jews and rescued them from slavery.

Jesus took two items from that meal, two items common around the world, in different forms, bread and juice or wine, for a new meal of remembrance, a mysterious meal. A meal open to all people. Luke tells us…
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table with the apostles. He said to them, "I have wanted so much to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer! For I tell you, I will never eat it until it is given its full meaning in the Kingdom of God." Then Jesus took a cup, gave thanks to God, and said, "Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I will not drink this wine until the Kingdom of God comes." Then he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me." In the same way, he gave them the cup after the supper, saying, "This cup is God's new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:14-20 GNB)

The Church, universally, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches included, have agreed on at least two sacraments: baptism and communion. They were the two Jesus’ clearly indicated the church should do. The early church used the Greek word “mysterion” meaning, not surprisingly, mystery, for describing baptism and communion.

It is a mystery because in eating and drinking together, the Church is united. This was a large part of Paul's concern with Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 11). We know how gathering at the table to eat as a family, unites us and gives us time to share, and laugh and listen to one another. For centuries, the table has been a sacred place for many cultures. So too, gathering at this table brings unity to the Church. The sharing of the cup for “intinction,” as we dip the bread in a shared cup of juice, reflects this unity.

Another reason it is mystery is because we truly don’t know how God can use these simple elements for our spiritual good. There are those who hold that the bread and wine, are transformed, commonly referred to as transubstantiation. Outside of a few, the majority of Churches, including the United Methodist Church, have rejected that belief. Instead, it maybe Jesus is present with the elements or that we eat and drink as only a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and new life He offers to us. We don’t know just how God meets us here in these elements but we know that he does.

It is also mystery because through the eating and drinking, we see the work of God’s grace in our lives. John Wesley, leader of the Methodist Revival, encouraged all wanderers, followers and disciples to take in communion. He preached, "As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls..." (The Duty of Constant Communion). What he saw and experienced in his life and ministry and what I too have experienced is when those who come to eat and drink, those who are eager to turn from their sins, find strength, hope and new life. Does it happen right away? Not always. But in time, there comes benefits for the faith journey from this mysterious meal.

It is mysterious because in this meal, Jesus says a new covenant is established. A new contract has been made between God and humanity, one which God shoulders the burden for. It is a one sided meal with God covering the cost and we come and give thanks, we celebrate the Eucharist: the word which means thanks.

Now you maybe unsure of your connection with God. You don’t need to listen to someone else or that voice inside your head, the one to tell you “they” know! “You, take communion? Shoot! Don’t you remember what you did this week? Remember what you said to…”

Are we unworthy to receive God’s mercy, His gift? Of course we are. And God is offering mercy anyway. We’re deserving of death. But God is offering us life anyway. We don’t deserve strength to our soul. But God is offering us strength anyway. We certainly don’t deserve to be forgiven and pardoned. But God is offering it anyway.

Holy Communion always offers grace. We are reminded of what God has done for us in the past, experience what God is doing now as we partake, and anticipate what God will do in the future work of salvation." (This Holy Mystery)

The snack has been prepared. The mysterious meal is before us. And God offers to us all new life in Jesus Christ, a meal of mercy and mystery for those who would chose to come and follow.

May I Ask: In your heart, do you prefer to have some mysteries in your world or to have all the answers?

May I Suggest: Seek out a new mystery. Honestly reflect on what seems mysterious to you. Enjoy the wonder. Make time and find a church to take communion if you haven't done so.


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