This was a reflection that I was privileged to be asked to give at my church. I will be doing that tomorrow (ie Sunday). The relevant readings are here.
Have you ever dumpster dived? I am not referring to finding some discarded and vintage bits and pieces to trendily upcyle. I mean for food.
You probably all know that Centrelink has not been increased in real terms since 1996, that’s more than two decades. Think of all the changes in those two decades. I didn’t have a mobile phone, or even want one in 1996, these days it is mandatory to have one in terms of staying in touch with Centrelink so they don’t cut you off. Many other expectations and needs have also changed. As a result of all this low income earners and welfare recipients in 2019 are a lot poorer than they were in the late 90s, when I struggled to look after my babies on welfare payments.
So dumpster diving these days is quote common, getting in amongst the rotting fruit, veg and dairy products and finding unopened packets that are barely past their useby date, bakery items that are a bit stale or broken and all the rest of it. Supermarkets throw out so much! I was shocked to be told that sometimes you can find a whole pallet of bottled water. Why does water need a use-by date?
Supermarkets often respond to dumpster divers by increasing security, padlocking dumpsters, watering the bread, slicing open packaging and at times pouring toxic chemicals or even human waste in to make the food not reclaimable. Even though this is food they can’t sell or use in any way, they stop people from reclaiming it if they can. Thankfully this is not something that happens across the board, and dumpster divers reclaim what they can, combine it with food they grow (if they are able) and then the interesting thing is how freely they share it. In my experience people who find a lot of food, or something particularly good, or something they can cook up will immediately look for opportunities to feed each other. The contrast between those who can afford to share but do not, and those who are suffering themselves but want to share what they have always staggers me.
Eucharist reminds me that the bread of life is necessarily the bread that is shared, before God there are not those who deserve it more or less, but each of us comes to be fed and then to participate in the work of feeding.
This is the body of Christ.
It was refugee week this week, and many people participated in the refugee ration challenge. I’ve been marking which makes me want to eat all the time so I did not, I merely donated some money. I saw the rations that people were given- here there is no generosity or abundance- only the basics. People were given what was barely adequate and would not be very interesting over time. Keeping the body functioning is one thing, but God’s abundance is more than rations, more than the efficient fostering of physical life. Think what a meal can mean- it is not just nutrition, it is a time to stop and share and care for ourselves. Think of the house being filled with the scent of spices and good things warming. Think of bread rising. Think of the freedom to step away from work and to come together in each other’s beautiful homes and in our lovely church. Meals are not just rations, they are humanising celebrations of life.
We need to do better for the refugees, many of whom have an ethic of sharing, this is part of the Christian heritage but also a Muslim value. Sharing, giving, abundance, equality. Nourishment for the soul and for the human family rather than merely the stomach of the individual.
The body of Christ.
It’s significant to me that we add wine. There was a time in my childhood, where wine was almost never used at mass because we were told bread could symbolise both the body AND the blood. In terms of anatomy this is quite sensible and logical, no living flesh body ever existed that wasn’t also composed of blood. But there is a symbolic richness to wine that adds something to bread, that gives us a fuller more whole picture of what it is that Jesus has given to us.
Wine, especially in is a luxury not a staple as is bread. We are so surrounded by luxuries that we easily lose sight of this fact, but wine is not just stuffing something hurriedly in our mouth so we don’t collapse (not that I am advocating for bread to be so reduced). Bread can be part of charity, we might give crumbs to the less fortunate from a safe distance, we might speak of “human rights” and sustain them in life. Bread can be reduced to rations, it shouldn’t be but it can be.
Wine is only for friends. We do not give wine to people we look down on. We do not give wine grudgingly, if we give it at all then we share it with joy. One of the ways I realised when some of my university teachers had transitioned to be colleagues and comrades and (I am honoured to say this) FRIENDS is when we began to share wine together. Wine symbolises the part of meals which is not merely necessary- the joy and companionship. We bring out our best wine for our most honoured guests, we give wine as a gift to people we appreciate and admire.
The blood of Christ, cup not just of compassion but solidarity.
Significantly, when swamped by the demands of hungry crowds (5000 clamouring) Jesus did not let his apostles off the hook. He didn’t put the responsibility for self-care back on each individual.
It’s significant how we read this miracle, what we see here will affect how we live. If we think that Jesus (being god) produced magical, miraculous bread from the sky and gave it out to everyone, then we might be tempted to think that it is God and only God who can solve all our problems. Perhaps then we will think that all we need to do is pray for climate change to be solved, for the refugees to be set free, for governments to become more responsive and compassionate. But where do I draw the line? Should I even try to do the morally right thing, or do I wait for God to change me? Should I go to work or should I just pray? These extremes are silly of course, but it’s very easy to believe that if I personally am a reasonably good and kind person, the world’s problems are not my problem. I can give toxic politics, growing inequity and the climate crisis all to God and keep planning a wonderful holiday for my own family.
In this way of thinking, the bread of heaven never grew in the earth, the wine we share was never worked by human hands. But…think of the liturgy (work of the people) that we all grew up with. We assert that the bread and wine which are transformed into Christ’s real and living presence are exactly that- earth and human work. There is no getting away from this. Jesus’ insistence that all were responsible of all might have called out of people whatever they had brought for themselves alone. Those with a surplus shared with those who had nothing without getting to judge them for being “lazy” or “less organised”. There is a redistributive power to Eucharist, this is not co-incidental it is at the heart of it. It comes from a God who became embodied and entangled in humanity. It comes from a Christ who says “I want everyone to be fed, I want all at the table” not with threats or rules or overpowering us but with a deep enough commitment to become bread for us.
The generosity of Christ is here. Eat. Drink. Be the sacrament.
So let us reflect on the table we are coming to. Let us reflect that around the table we are a circle, all equal, all welcomed. Let us take the sacrament when Christ offers it, let us treasure it, hold it within ourselves, and let us open our hands to give out the things we are called to bring to the world.
Bread to feed and strengthen life and community.
Wine for joy, affirmation and solidarity
The body, the life-blood of our own dear, Wise Christ.