Soul Food – August 12, 2018
I’m not quite a foodie, whatever that is. But I do love good food. One of the great draws of living near New York City or even Port Chester’s Westchester Ave. for that matter is, no matter what type food or ethnicity, you crave, you can almost certainly find it. Now, as a southerner, soul food and traditional BBQ (the noun, not the verb) top the list of ethnic foods for me, these are the foods that I get homesick for. In New York City, as a southerner from the Carolinas I can order a paper plate of pork barbecue, with hush puppies or at least corn bread and with a side of collards and mash potatoes. In the city, a guy from Louisiana might get a gumbo, a gal from Coney Island a hot dog with sauerkraut, and so on. The city has the potential to feed people what they long for; those simple “comfort foods” that are so powerfully associated with cherished places and traditions. The foods served make people feel at home!
Isn’t it interesting what food means to us? Once a reporter asked an Apollo astronaut what he, the astronaut missed the most while he was circling around and around the moon. The astronaut might have said something predictable like a hot bath, a kiss from his wife, or the feel of the earth under his feet. But he said he missed having a cheeseburger from the café down the street where he lived. A cheeseburger!
I recall an incident a few years ago while eating at Sylvia’s Restaurant, a Harlem landmark that’s served generous helpings of Southern comfort food since 1962, the waitress came to the table and asked, “What shew want to drink baby”. Whereupon I immediately requested sweet tea. “Oh, I know you’re from the South”, she exclaimed with a new-found glimmer in her eyes. I said yes. Charleston, SC. The server called over Sylvia. And our conversation began. Soon we discovered we were both native Carolinians displaced to what she called “Yankee land”. I shared my connection. She had grown up in the low country of SC as well. Well, then you know how it goes. You start to make other connections, names places – two Southerners standing there going on and on about who they know and where so and so lives, while a whole line of folks are waiting and wishing with all their might that this ridiculous priest would just give his order and sit down.
For just a moment, try and remember those special moments of feasting that have taken place during your life. Were you here last Sunday to experience the foods of Jamaica? Me? I’ve already marked my calendar for next year to make sure I don’t miss that feast!
Maybe you remember the special dishes your grandmother used to make. Can you remember the way her kitchen, or the kitchen of another special family member, use to smell or how the table was always set when you arrived?
Preaching experts say that we are not supposed to share too many personal experiences in a sermon. But, when it comes to talking about food, I guess I can’t quite contain myself.
I remember once my mom sent me the recipe for peanut butter pie, with the comment that read, “I wish I was with you to fix your favorite.” With that pie comes memories from my childhood. It’s a pie that my grandmother always made for me. It was the pie that always adorned the dinner table the first night I returned home for college. It’s the Perfect comfort food for me.
These are the sorts of things I remember. I know you remember something like this in your own life, from your own growing-up too. And I apologize if I’m making you hungry, maybe this morning’s coffee hour has a new importance for you and your kids.
Of course, what we remember when we think back is not just how the foods tasted, but the way we felt at those feasts, a sense of the people we were with at the time, feelings of love and being a part of something special. The food only represents the mystery of those wonderful experiences of feasting.
I was reading a theologian this week who made a very interesting observation. He said that in the Bible the most consistent image of heaven is not golden streets or pearly gates. It’s not harps and sweet music in the clouds. Rather, heaven in scripture is, almost exclusively, described as a great banquet.
Our Gospel lesson this morning comes from a continuing section in John in which Jesus describes his own life, his body and his blood as the very food of heaven, the manna which has come down to bring us eternal life. “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed”, he says, “He who eats and drinks abides in me and I in him.” And in todays: “if any one eats of this bread, he will life for ever.”
I think the Eucharistic language in John, as beautiful as it is, is at times, difficult to hear. It’s very literal, earthy, physical, strikingly real. To outsider’s ears, in other words to non-Christian ears, it probably sounds odd, if not a bit offensive. It’s easy to understand why in the first century there were rumors in the Roman world that Christianity embraced some form of cannibalism. But, John is not speaking to the outside world here. He’s not speaking to just anybody. His language is directed to the insiders, those who are part of the Christian community. He’s speaking to his hometown people! And today, it’s meant for you and me, those who know about the Eucharist. And in a very real and powerful way I think John wants us to remember the connection between our own life experience and the sacrifice of the cross – the gifts of body and blood that were given for us and what they mean for us. He’s reminding us of the feast that has been set out in the person of Jesus Christ, our real soul food.
We celebrate it at Sunday services. It’s our principle weekly celebration. We walk to the altar rail. We kneel. We cross our hands and raise them up to receive the bread. We drink the wine and eat the little pressed wafer. We do it all with the best of intentions. The words are a bit awkward and formal, while also beautiful. The language is serious. Sometimes the altar rail may seem a bit removed from our lives – distant maybe; as if we probably ought to be gathered in a circle and sit on the floor like children to really understand what Jesus was getting at.
But still, underneath all the layers of formality, communion remains, and will always remain, our best glimpse of that eternal feast we all yearn to attend.
And so, the question I want to leave you with this morning is:
¿What are you homesick for in your life?
¿Are you homesick for justice? Well, justice is served here.
¿Is it compassion for which you long? For here you will find compassion.
¿How about forgiveness, is that what you miss in your life? Forgiveness is on the menu.
And finally, ¿Love, do you seek to be loved? Well Love happens to be the house specialty.
You see, at this moment, you are sitting in the ultimate homesick restaurant right here.
And because of and through Christ Jesus, there is plenty on which to feast. Bon appétit!