Dining with Jesus
An Introduction to Food and Faith
▲ Baking bread in an internationally displaced people (IDP) camp outside Um Labassa in Sudan's Darfur region. Photo by Paul Jeffrey.
By Glory E. Dharmaraj*
- What is it to dine with Jesus?
- What would Jesus like to eat?
- Where would Jesus like to eat?
Recently I heard about a table in an Anglican church in London. It was a table used by William Wilberforce, the great abolitionist in England, who wrote letters of advocacy to the British Parliament to eradicate the evil of slavery. Now the same table is used by a church to serve Communion. John Wesley influenced the advocacy of Wilberforce.
THE TABLE OF GRACE
For Wesley, the Great Meal at God’s Table is the “grand channel whereby the grace of God’s Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God.” The Holy Communion is a means of grace. Forgiven and forgiving, we, the partakers in this mystery of the broken body and poured life of Christ, are sent out into the world. We are sent out as bearers of bread into a world of hunger, bearers of bread of justice, bread of peace, bread of healing, bread of renewal, and the bread of joyful service in God’s mission. It is a way of blessing Jesus for pouring himself completely for us.
The adult study, “Food and Faith” by Wendy Whiteside, with the Leader’s Guide by Faye Wilson, celebrates the Lord’s hospitality offered to us in the Holy Communion, and enjoins us to extend radical hospitality to the least of these. “Food, Faith, and Me,” the youth spiritual growth study by Kelly Martini, looks at food and faith from youth perspectives and offers engaging exercises and resources.
The supplementary articles in the following web pages further explore the spiritual dimension of eating food.
THE COMMON TABLE OF THE WORLD
The sacramental nature of eating rightly has another dimension: justice. Reverend Anita Phillips, Executive Director of Native American Comprehensive Plan and one of the contributors to the study, refers to the biblically-based notion of a “coming together place” for humanity, a place for sharing resources and finding ways of living with justice and in peace together. She advocates for sharing “gleanings” and not “leavings.” Recalling the story of Ruth and Boaz, Phillips lifts up the fact that Ruth was sharing in the very same grain that fell from his table by accident or thrown away. The opposite of sharing through gleanings is sharing through leavings, the left-over substandard grain. “I believe that sharing through gleanings and not through leavings is the Creator’s call upon those of us at the common table of the world so loved by the Creator,” Phillip reiterates.
AT THE EDGE OF THE TABLE
Women produce 80% of the food in the developing countries. Yet they experience grain drain because they do not have equal rights to control resources. The global food prices have soared making it impossible for women to feed their own families. More than 800 million people go hungry each day. Two thirds of these are women worldwide. The face of poverty is female. Due to food insecurity, families have to make hard choices. Food or education for the children? Food or medicine? Further, women now constitute nearly half of all migrants in search of food and economic security for their families.
The food maps in the web pages demonstrate some of these key issues visually.
Women bear the brunt of the food and water crisis. Sinking water tables, soil erosion, and continued exploitation of the land for private and commercial purposes have adverse impact on sustainable agriculture. If the average distance to the moon is roughly about 245,069 miles (394,400 km), South African women walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon and back 16 times a day to fetch water for their household needs. The link between climate change and food availability is an issue to study and act on.
NEW COMMUNITY AROUND THE TABLE
As co-creators of a new community with God, we are called to sow seeds of justice, nurture a spirituality of inner healing and engagement in the transformation of the world. While celebrating the gift of daily bread, we are called upon to seek justice for the neighbor who does not have their share of bread.
Nikolai Berdaev, a Russian philosopher, says, “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the bread for my neighbor, for everybody, is a spiritual question.” Take time to engage in the action plans suggested in the web pages.
The God to whom Jesus points out urges us to break the bread of justice and drink the cup of solidarity with the least of these.
I was hungry, you gave me food
I was thirsty, you gave me drink
*Glory Dharmaraj is director of spiritual formation and mission theology for the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.