Year A Ordinary 28
I have to admit something to you all. I am a food snob. I bring my own beer to the Men’s Club meetings because, and I know this might be a dangerous thing to admit in St Louis, I don’t really care for Bud Light. I don’t drink just any old coffee. No, I hand-roast my own fair-trade, organic beans and then use a french press. They say that on the 7th Day God rested, but I know that Days 1-6 were all coffee. By the way, we’ll have a big, coffee related announcement coming up in a week or two here…how’s that for a teaser? Anyway, I’ve come a long way from the days when I would microwave slices of american cheese onto saltines for a snack.
Food is interesting, because at one level, it’s just stuff we put into our bodies to burn as fuel. In that view we settle for the cheapest but most nutritious options, you would eat, I don’t know, a bunch of kale and protein bars or something. But food is so much more than that, right? Think back to the last family gathering you had, the last wedding anniversary, the last special night out – that event involved food. Even more, that food was probably special. Your favorite restaurant, grandma’s apple pie that she only makes once a year. Maybe there we candles on the table. Maybe you wore your best clothing. Wives, maybe you were even successful in getting your husband to wear a tie…miracles do happen, you guys.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches (how’s that for a 180?) that the created world is God-shaped, shot through with grace. When we talk about grace and the Christian life, we’re talking about a heavenly gift that unlocks the mystery and beauty of creation. As Christians, we don’t try to escape the world, we seek to redeem it, and grace completes what is lacking, it doesn’t destroy it. What this means is that food isn’t just food, a meal is a special event that goes beyond simply attaining calories to survive. A meal, in the proper frame of mind, or with the people we love, or shared with a person in need becomes a banquet, full of memories and bonding.
There’s this movie I love called Babette’s Feast, about a woman named Babette who is a refugee in a small village. In the village there are the typical human dramas – people who have hurt each other, people who are lonely – and one day Babette wins some money in the lottery, more money than she has ever had. She decides to spend all of that money on food. She used to be a great french chef, and she painstakingly prepares a great, costly feast which she then shares with the villagers who have never eaten such good food before. As they eat, they begin to tell stories, to marvel at how delicious the food is, to open up to each other. By the end, they emerge from the house to dance around the town square singing a hymn. The look up. The stars seem closer. The feast has changed them.
Now, think about those words of Our Lord, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” Think back to the best meal you ever had, the last time you were gathered around a table with family or friends and you wished the night would never end, when you truly felt how precious each and every moment is, when the creatures of this world, as humble as they are, cracked open and became a conduit of God’s grace. That banquet is a sign of the life to come, a token of God’s desire for us to be happy. When you dream of what heaven is like, retrieve that memory.
The early Church realized the importance of eating together and the implications of heaven as a wedding feast. St. Augustine connects these moments with the Mass, writing, “You are at a great table…for the banquet is none other than the Lord of the banquet himself…though host, he himself is both the food and drink.”
The guests at her feast didn’t know that Babette had spent all her money on them, that she had poured her whole self into it. Even unbeknownst to them, perhaps it is her sacrifice that makes the banquet so beautiful. The Eucharist is simply a piece of unleavened bread, a cup of wine – but the sacrifice! The sacrifice is everything, the Lamb of God immolated on the altar. He has put all that he is into this feast to make it more than mere food. He himself is our life and our sustenance. In consuming him we are spiritually strengthened, yes, in the same way that food gives our bodies strength, but we are also drawn into his very life, to share his joy, to participate in the mystical communion of the saints. This is a feast that changes us. No matter how hungry you feel in this world, come to the altar and find in Jesus your sustenance.
One of Babette’s feastgoers, General Lorentz, is converted by the banquet and seeks out his long lost love. He tells her, “I shall be with you every day that is granted to me from now on. Every evening I shall sit down to dine with you. Not with my body, which is of no importance, but with my soul. Because this evening I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.” Every meal a feast, every life redeemed.
O Lord, you spread a banquet before us.