While reviewing study notes in my file for the coming Sunday, Proper 14B in the Revised Common Lectionary, I came across the following handwritten entry:
“The New Testament knows no more meaningful act for affecting and witnessing to the relationship of Christians with one another and with Christ than eating together. Whoever removes eating from the list of profoundly religious acts will have great difficulty with the Gospel message.”
If these are someone else’s words, I failed to footnote them. I would like to give whoever wrote or spoke them credit. If they are words that came to me in a moment of inspiration when I was reflecting upon Jesus “Bread of Life Discourse” in the sixth chapter of the Gospel According to St. John, good! Wherevery the words came from, I believe they are words of wisdom.
On the same note card, I had also listed the words “companion”, “companionship”, and “company.” Perhaps I did that because the etymology of “companion” relates to the substance of my note about Christ, Christians, and meals. The origin of the word teaches us that food fuels relationships. The word “companion”, from the Latin com “with” and panis “bread”, reminds us that food and meals we share with others satisfies more than physical hunger. To share a meal with someone implies a level of comfort and a sense of security with another person or group of persons. The English “companion”, the Spanish “companero”, the Italian “compagno”, and the French “copain” all come from the Latin root that means “with whom one eats bread.”
Is it any wonder that the heart of the Church’s worship is a meal, that the presence of Christ is known in the breaking of bread, and that eating together at other times is such a central part of life in Christian community? Is it any wonder that we are spending five Sundays in a row exploring the layers of meaning in the sixth chapter of John?
I remember a story told by an Episcopal Priest concerning an experience early in his ministry. He came home from a very difficult vestry meeting in which he was denied pursuit of a vision about which he was passionate. He put his little daughter in her high chair, tied her bib around her neck, opened a jar of baby food, and proceeded to feed her. During the meal, his mind was still on his profound disappointment and he began to weep. His daughter, who could not yet speak, understood the language of her father’s tears. She picked up her spoon, scooped up some baby food, and held it up to his lips. After he opened his mouth and tasted his daughter’s offering, she picked up the napkin and wiped the tears from his eyes.
In the course of a meal, without words but with signs and actions, a little child brought compassion and helped the healing begin in her father. Jesus Christ does that with us each time we feast at his banquet table and whenever we break bread with one another in his Name. He did for the multitude on the hillside, for his first disciples in the Upper Room, for those two pilgrims at Emmaus, and he does it still in simple country chapels and magnificent cathedrals. He promises to gather us at a great banquet in heaven. We are his companions in this life and the life to come.
"Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).