Wednesday, January 13, 2016

We Are What We Eat

One evening I found myself in the church kitchen with members of our youth group. It was a Wednesday and we were finishing up a regular dinner after our Wednesday School. I don’t recall now the circumstances, but for some reason the adults were busy and I found myself alone in the kitchen. Without much asking, the youth joined me and set about cleaning up. There was food to put in containers to send home with members, dishes to be rinsed, plates to be returned to their cupboard, and tables to be wiped down. At one point, one of our youth had a towel in her hand, looked at it and said “Is this one of ours?”.
She asked a seemingly average and inconsequential question but one that made me smile and in a big way.
She didn’t mean “Is this one of ours?” as in “Does this belong to my immediate family?”. She meant “Is this OURS?” as in “Does this belong to our CHURCH family?”. It was a glorious moment.
A church can be many things. It can be A study group that meets weekly or twice weekly to discuss various topics of theological import. It can be a club of sorts where you have to know the secret knock, the right words to say, profess the right beliefs to be a member. It also can be a country club of sorts where there are programs and classes of interest and where all the popular people seem to gather. It can be a place where people put on their “Sunday best” by way of a fa├žade of perfection to hide their true selves because church is a place to be perfect.
At its best, church is none of these. At its best, church is more than a community. It is a family; a unified breathing body.
On Sundays our church members gather around the table of God, the altar. It’s a place where we all receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine and are renewed and restored to continue to do the work of ministry.
But that bread and wine do more than nourish us. They unite us into one body. In consuming the body and blood of Christ we become his body on earth. Each one of us is a part of that body with a different purpose to serve in God’s kingdom. Communion bonds us together in community.
However, that is not enough. A body can be bound together and yet not function well. At worst, a body can be at odds with itself and be a detriment to itself and its many members. The same blood coursing through the veins of parents and children is not enough to make them a family. It makes them related, but not a family. The waters of baptism and the bread and wine of the communion table can make us related.  They tell us we are children of God and united in one body, but they can’t make that body breathe. They can’t make us care for and love one another.
At the same time, the church kitchen is just a kitchen. It can be a place where food is prepared and served and dishes are filled, emptied, and cleaned. It can be as utilitarian as any institutional kitchen. A kitchen is a thing and only holds the meaning we ascribe to it.
Under the best circumstances, though, the combination of altar and kitchen are magic. As one frames and informs the other, the kitchen and the altar become lenses through which we view ourselves and our communal body.
The table in our worship space makes us related. It unites us as one body by feeding us from the one body of Christ. We then move into our kitchen to work side by side in order to feed one another from the work of our own hands. Each meal prepared is an offering. We raise our forks that we may be fed and that we may feed.
That evening in the church kitchen, the student who asked me about the towel showed how these two elements of community come together. She is a member of our body, a member of Christ’s body. Her family is a part of the church family, made such by the sharing of Christ’s body and blood. And she is a functioning part of that body doing real ministry through her work in our kitchen. The towel she held was sacramental in that moment. It became a symbol of her ministry and who we are as a family.
We come to the table because we’re hungry for spiritual food. We come to the table because we need to feel God’s love and to restore the bonds of love that tie us to one another.
We then come to the kitchen to understand who we become through those bonds. We come to the kitchen to learn how the body works together to feed the world. We come to the kitchen to live out the promise made to us at the table.
And we come to the kitchen to laugh. As is always the case, the kitchen is the less formal place in the house.  The place where we tell jokes and stories and teach others. Around the altar we learn our lessons. In the kitchen we learn to apply them.
In our church house you’ll hear stories of the time the old church was packed beyond capacity on Christmas Eve. You’ll hear about times when the family gathered around God’s table to worship with laughter as well as tears. You’ll hear of favorite worship moments and moments that made us cry.
You’ll also hear stories from our kitchen. You’ll hear of Bob’s love for Cynthia’s lemon pie and Dee’s delicious chocolate chunk cheesecake. You’ll hear us talk of Mary’s Christmas buns she made every year before her passing a few years ago. You’ll learn of Mildred’s chicken pie that was so good it became the anchor of an annual parish fundraiser. And you’ll learn to line up and look for your favorite dish cooked by one of your brothers and sisters.
The food of the table and the food of the kitchen make us who we are: more than a church, more than a body, they make us a family.

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