The Rev. Becky Zartman
John 6:25-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
I thought that I knew what it was like to be hungry, until I hit the third trimester of my pregnancy. Every cell in my body was hungry. My hunger would wake me up in the middle of the night, rouse me out of bed, and lead me to the kitchen, where I would scarf down food until I could not eat another bite. The real trouble was that there was so much baby, there wasn’t much room for food, so I experienced the very disorienting sensation of at once being overfull and also still very hungry. For the first time in my life, I had to be really strategic about what I ate and when. I gravitated toward calorie-laden foods that would also satisfy my bizarre cravings and at the same time not give me heartburn. (And this, my friends, is why pregnant women love ice cream.)
Never before had what I put in my mouth mattered so much. Food had become true nourishment, not only for me, but for the not-so-tiny life growing inside of me. Like the very hungry caterpillar, I ate and I ate and I ate for the sheer act of consuming calories. The food I put in my body was the energy that sustained my life, and the life of my daughter. In other words, I ate because I needed to be fed.
Humans eat for a surprising number of reasons. We eat for entertainment, we eat for special occasions, because of social expectations, or companionship. We eat because we’re bored, or stressed, or lonely, or sad. We eat when we’re tired and want a quick lift. The reasons we eat are myriad, and all these reasons obscure the central truth about food: we eat so that we may be fed. Food strengthens our bodies and sustains our life. Without food, we perish.
Because our primal reason for eating has become so occluded, it can be hard for us who have never experienced food insecurity, us who live in a world of maximized food choices and two dozen varieties of peanut butter, to remember that food is life. When we remember this, Scripture begins to break open and feed us anew. When we remember food is life, we gain a better understanding of what it means to ask God to give us our daily bread. When we remember food is life, we see manna from heaven as God giving life to God’s people even in times of extremity. When we remember food is life, we see the feeding of the five thousand as a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. But most importantly, when we remember that food is life, we discover what it means when Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus is the food that will feed us. Jesus isn’t entertainment or boredom or stress eating. Jesus is life.
As humans, we aren’t just bodies who can live on bread alone. Nor are we merely souls, able to subsist on the food of angels. We need more. Jesus, who is God and person, offered himself to feed our souls and body, which is to say, our whole, undivided self. Only Jesus, fully God, fully human, can satisfy our existential hunger. And so at God’s gracious invitation, we come to the table to eat the bread of life, and be fed.
Questions for Meditation
The SSJE Rule describes how a balance of feasting and fasting teaches us “to savor and appreciate what we eat and drink, in thankfulness to the Creator who gives them.” Are you in a season of feast or fast? Give thanks for food.
We eat for many reasons, both physical and emotional. Listen to your internal cues as you prepare food, as you eat it, and as you conclude eating.
Holy Communion serves not only as a memorial of our redemption, but also a chance to be united with Jesus, as we “feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.” Being fed by Jesus, how might you feed others?
As Jesus said in his wilderness fast, “one does not live on bread alone.” We must feed our souls as well as our bodies. For what do you hunger?
Thanks for this wonderful Lenten reflection on food! I hunger for God’s presence and have been praying to feel closer to Him. Brother Curtis mentioned times of darkness where he didn’t feel God’s presence. He explained that the desire to feel God’s presence enabled him to pray as the Psalmist, “As the dear pants for water, so my soul cries out for Thee”
That really made me think that God allows those times to draw us closer.