I have a big headache, I have had a big day but later I would like to post links to the readings I preached from. There was a stunning poem in the mix. After church I went to an activist meeting. I went into the venue and looked for the leader of the group. I finally tracked him down in the kitchen slicing bread. He told me it was his last event as the leader (he says “co-ordinator” and we all see him as a leader) and he has been a brilliant leader so that is somewhat sad but he said he could not bear to leave without ever having worked in the kitchen for an event. He explained that that is an important and much neglected role. He also kicked me out from helping because women/mothers spend enough time in the kitchen.
We had our meeting it was very political. We had our pumpkin soup and donated bread and mulled wine too. It seemed an appropriate event for Corpus Christi, a sequel to my reflection which is right here:
This is the body of Christ
We talk about breaking the bread that is the body. We are so calm and willing to accept the suffering of another being for our good. Our most frequent reading of the last supper is as a prelude to the scene we see as all important- the violence and humiliation of crucifixion. The necessary sacrifice. The Friday we call “good”.
But what else might we know as humans that is Eucharistic? Our first experience of being fed by the body of another happens in the womb. Our mother’s body sends nutrients to the developing foetus, the potential baby, the new life. If a mother does not eat a healthy enough diet, her body will send nutrients to the baby before herself, herself taking only the minimum needed to live. My grandmother experienced pregnancy in a refugee camp in Germany. My grandfather gave her most of his ration and she gave most of what she ate to the baby who became my aunt. Father and mother’s bodies wasted a little but the baby grew. This is my body, I want you to live.
Once the baby is born, God has created a miracle where any mammal, humans included produce milk. The mother’s milk is made in her body, made of her blood. I struggled to breastfeed it can be a painful and difficult experience, it takes up so much time and energy and it is boring, especially when people are uncomfortable with it and expect you to stay out of their way when you do it (many hours a day). Many baby mammals head-butt or bite their mother and fight over the teats. A human baby latches on comparatively calmly. Within days the child is seeking and holding the mother’s eyes with her own when she feeds, within weeks a little hand is reaching to wind around mother’s giant finger. Soon enough the baby breaks off feeding to smile and laugh and make conversation. Eating becomes social, the “thou” within the connection is a source of joy and love. There is communion, not just consumption. Humans are created this way by God to seek connection, to respond with gratefulness and joy to “this is my body,”.
Eating is a bodily and social and for us a HUMAN experience. We eat and we grow and we become strong. We become like the one who feeds us.
Why do we not remember that love and joy and gratefulness when our other mother, the earth feeds us? Earth was also made by God not only to feed but to teach us. We were supposed to connect with her.
To say that Jesus had a “last supper” is to acknowledge that this was not the only time he shared food and companionship with his friends and family. Jesus’ words in the gospels are rich with earthy awareness “unless a grain of wheat dies it remains a single grain” “the sower went out to sow the seed” “I am the vine and you are the branches” “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. We are not supposed to read this as some sort of spiritual erasure or making obsolete of our bodily lives, but as a deep affirmation of what it means to be humans and to live upon and by the generosity of the earth. At the wedding at Cana Jesus showed a desire for people to share and enjoy the good things together and at the feeding of the five thousand (or four or however many thousand) he showed a need to take responsibility for each other’s hunger. Food is not for self-interested individuals: “Take, eat, this is my body”.
These days we like to remain as unaware as possible of where our food comes from. We like to pick it up in handy, sanitised packets from the supermarket and not ask too many questions about factory farming, abattoirs, pesticides, deforestation, people in other countries working long hours for little pay and starving themselves to feed us. We make ourselves feel better when we buy “Fair trade” and certainly I wouldn’t advocate choosing “unfair trade” on purpose, but the conditions of labour and remuneration that even the so called “fair trade” workers live under are not ones we would (nor should) accept ourselves. There is exploitation in our food chain, exploitation of humans, of animals of the land itself. We are not gazing into our mother’s eyes, we are draining her dry and then angry at her that there is not more!
Jesus’ generosity was a political threat and he was crucified. Jesus was rash enough to teach us that this greed and exploitation that empties the mind and heart and makes us radically disconnected, atomistic individuals (as Margaret Thatcher saw us) is wrong. Jesus was motherly enough to see our true potential if we eat his body with the reverence it deserves, the baby’s gurgle of joy at relating to the mother. We are human, we “cannot live on bread alone,” but on the Word of God. We crave connection, it is who God made us to be.
It’s an old-fashioned way of saying it, but let us allow time for adoration of the body of Christ. Let us reflect now on the mystery of feeding and relationship and the need for them both to go together. Let us seek to treat our food and the earth itself with the reverence it is due as God’s physical bodily way of mothering us and ensuring our needs are met.
After supper Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, tortured, abused. A small core of followers including his own mother remained faithful at the foot of the cross. As we prepare to eat the bread offered by Jesus and by our community and thanks to James, let us reflect on our own capacity for strong, courageous connection and faithfulness.
(please note: if you wish to read a secular version of what is so wonderful about humans I recommend George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage, it fits with our gospel awareness of what it means to be a human being)