Marieta Holst made the best cakes ever.
At least that’s what I, as a ten-year-old, wholeheartedly believed.
This great early memory of sinking my teeth into a deep, moist, vanilla sponge-type flat cake with the best vanilla or chocolate icing in the world (with those green, blue and pink icing flowers on the corners) – that great memory of the cake itself is matched only by my memory of the bright, warm and smiling face of the baker of the cake, and her late husband, Alf.
My mom, dad, brother and I used to visit Marieta and Alf Holst in their home in St. Jacob’s so many years ago. And to this day, whenever I recall those sumptuous cakes, what immediately, automatically, comes to mind, is the warmth and goodness of Alf and Marieta Holst.
Food and people go together.
You know, if we think about, and ask ourselves: What’s some of your best memories, best times, most happy moments? – I’d venture to say that food is somehow involved: Christmas dinners with family. Picnic lunches on the beach. Barbeques on the back deck at the cottage in the summers.
We gather around food, in the best of times.
And food isn’t just “fuel” to keep us going, but has always been meant to be enjoyed, and savoured, with others. Rabbi Zuckerman at Beth Jacob Synagogue on Stirling Avenue recently told our Confirmation Class when we visited, that a multi-course Passover meal in his home can easily last for over six hours! Amen to that!
In the Jewish wedding tradition, much like “the Wedding at Cana” which Jesus attended, the celebration and meal could last over several days, with rich food and wine overflowing and helping to provide the “basic necessities” for a real party and celebration – a good, fun time. You really can’t have “a good time” without food and drink.
There’s just something very wrong with the idea of gulping down a Big Mac while dashing between appointments – something we’re always tempted to do in our society. Not only is that nutritionally unhealthy for us, and a strain on our digestive system, but it’s also an ugly symptom of our speed-obsessed society.
No wonder, what’s been catching on in many places around the world, especially in Europe, is the “Slow Movement”.
Eating slowly, over the course of several hours in the middle of the day.
Eating food grown locally.
And lingering slowly over the good food, savouring the tastes, along with unrushed, unhurried conversation and company…
This is how we were made to eat food: eating it slowly, and together with others!
Is it any surprise that there are so many stories in the Bible of Jesus eating leisurely and unhurried with others? And that he told many stories which revolved around meals?
Whether attending the Wedding at Cana,
or telling the story of the “Prodigal Son” who returns to his father, who in turn throws a huge welcome-back party,
or appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and then “breaking bread” with them for supper,
or when Jesus describes heaven as the huge dinner party, where everyone enjoys a sumptuous feast.
And, of course, the key event of God’s salvation so basic not only to the Jewish faith, but also Christian, is God’s liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, an event marked by the yearly Passover Meal, with bread, lamb, bitter herbs & spices, eggs, and wine.
This Passover Meal, recollecting the amazing deeds of God for the good of the Hebrews, turned into the primary and central “meal” of the Christian Church – the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper; recalling how Jesus promised that the bread and wine we eat really becomes his very presence, promising to be close to us, near us, with us forever.
You know, when we ingest food, any kind of food and swallow it, that piece of food is converted into the necessary nutrients and components for our bodies, providing the necessary nutrients and fibre we need to survive and be healthy. That food becomes an intimate part of our bodies.
In the meal of Holy Communion, in the eating of bread and drinking of wine, Jesus becomes an intimate part of us, entering our hearts, minds and souls, bringing his Spirit of Peace and Joy, Wisdom, Patience, and Courage.
Most meals we eat with others are with our friends or family, or at least people we’d get along with. Rarely, hardly ever, would we knowingly and purposely eat with someone with whom we’re angry, or having a disagreement, or are in some kind of hurtful conflict.
But what’s different about the meal of Holy Communion, in our time of worship as a faith community, is that there may in fact be some people in the crowd with whom we’re at odds, or having some hard feelings, or aren’t seeing eye-to-eye.
And we can still do this and eat the bread and wine of Holy Communion together, because we know that Holy Communion isn’t about us, but about God, who draws all people to God-self, who promises to come to us in the Spirit of Jesus, where we come to know ourselves, and everyone else at the Lord’s Table, as deeply loved, completely cherished and totally valued.
Why do we, as Christians, eat together?
In this season of Lent, as we wonder how and where, and when we might find God, and experience God, as we search sometimes desperately for God’s life-giving presence, let’s remember food, and mealtimes with others.
And the next time we find ourselves surrounded by good food and good company, maybe, just maybe, if we pause long enough, and observe, something of God may catch our attention:
The warm smile of the person sitting across from us,
the encouraging and affirming words of the person passing the plate of potatoes,
or the understanding nod of the baker of the cake who cuts a big slice of it and offers it generously and eagerly to us,
In those moments eating together, maybe, just maybe, we may catch a glimpse of God, and realize that God is closer to us then we think, and that God’s deep love for us never ends.