Eating Together in a time of Covid-19 lockdown.

Posted: April 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

Eating Together in a time of Covid-19 lockdown.

“What a wonderful story!  It celebrates Easter. It invites participation.  It is in the best sense a faith legend… Whatever actual experience may lie behind the story, it is now an invitation.  It invites us to join the journey.” (Wm Loader Web site, 2005)

So suggests Bill Loader, the Uniting Church theologian from Western Australia. And I reckon the ‘Road to Emmaus’ story is indeed a wonderful, original story by the storyteller we call Luke imagining, sharing, celebrating, teaching. Especially ‘imagining’, because imagination never numbs us with description but coaxes us into a new situation.

As the story is told and the plot revealed we can find ourselves engaged in the questions and the possibilities of the story, as a different re-imagining of the world dawns. This is what makes this a great story. But a ‘metaphorical story’ not ‘history remembered’, as Marcus Borg nudges us and reminds us.  (Borg 2001:44)

To set the scene in what we know of history we are reliably informed that scholars have speculated as to where Emmaus actually was. Four places seem to have been suggested: The first was Amwas, near Latrun – approx. 20 miles from Jerusalem; The second was Abu Ghosh – approx. 7.5 miles from Jerusalem; The third was Qubelba – approx. 7 miles from Jerusalem, and the fourth was Moza – approx. 4 miles from Jerusalem) So we can deduce it was as close as 4 and as far as 20 miles from Jerusalem. In travel time this could have been between 1 and 5 days walk from Jerusalem

We also note that many have heard and interpreted this story differently. For instance, some commentators seek to explain aspects of this story in terms of an ‘interventionist’ God. That on the road back home toward Emmaus, God intervened deliberately, and kept Cleopas (and his wife?) from ‘seeing’ Jesus, so Jesus could explain the scriptures to them. On the other hand, others see the work of a ‘super-naturalist’ God in this story. When Jesus suddenly appears spirit-like, and then later on, is suddenly whisked away. And when Jesus can no longer be ‘seen’ with eyes because he had gone from this world to the ‘Father’, this new world evades our senses.

When I think about my own faith journey, I can see that I too, wandered in and around and wondered about these approaches.  I’m not sure for all of you, but today none of these attempts resonate with me all that well. Especially the theology that those suggestions raise, indeed, they become little more than brainteasers and can kill off the story for me.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to unravel and appreciate the context of the story. And to that, I would now like to offer some comments which I hope might be helpful as well as imaginative.

Holding St David’s mission statement in mind especially the ‘honouring of the Mind bit one has to agree that our consciousness and especially our language ability and its importance in our humanity demands that we take all stories as being are very concrete. Not perhaps eternal because they ‘live’ within a particular context. It is this context that makes them real and concrete. Andin applying this to our in the context of our text it suggests that this story’s context may have been some debates about how Gentile Jesus followers could sense the present-ness of the Post-Easter Christ
after the death of Jesus.

Luke tells a story about the most common and important community occasion these followers had experienced. The experience is of a meal in community rather than an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience. This is a strong suggestion that this is a meal story and a bonding story. Maybe the storyteller Luke is grounded enough to know we become what we eat!

From all that we are now discovering about early Christian culture, meals played an important role in both community life, and in the Jesus tradition. In fact, community meals in the sense of a group of people gathering came before Christianity had even become a movement of note. This is thought to be how diverse and often groups with conflicting views of who Yeshua was began to congregate. It was a meal together that was the seed.

It is thought that ‘Christians’ regularly ate together, even before they began to conduct worship services. And Jesus seems so closely associated with meals that one of the criticisms levelled against him, you will remember, was as a ‘glutton and drunkard’.  (Matt 11:19)

Returning to our text it is fair to say that Luke had heard some of those stories, re-imagined them, as well as having shared in some of the meals. He knew the power of story. So, he tells a meal story at a crucial point in this local community’s history. And if we continue to accept the findings of modern biblical scholarship, then we can affirm that:

  • Jesus regularly accepted invitations to attend meals, but as a guest rather than as a host,

And

  • Jesus used these occasions for re-imagining and ‘indirect’ teaching,
    rather than the so-called ‘whiteboard and text’ kind.

“Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger.” (Alves 1990:77) For around a meal, food is shared not hoarded, friendships are made and relationships strengthened.  And “experimentation, adventure and innovation lure us toward new horizons.” (O’Donohue 2003:146)

It is also safe to assume that the continued celebration of meals by the early movement developed a code that both identified and protected the gatherings and this code was that the gatherings were called ‘breaking of bread’. This code being motivated primarily by the needs of community, rather than establishing or remembering the so-called ‘upper room’ meal event.

So, this suggests that this story is not a forerunner to, or about, Holy Communion. And it certainly has got nothing to do with the Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’! But on the other hand, because all religious language is metaphorical… When bread and wine and BBQs are eaten, they become body and blood. Our body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. Our compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as Christ in our neighbour.

“Since the beginning of time,” author Robert Fulghum writes, “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship…  Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together.”  (Fulghum 1995:81-82)

In these times of Covid-19 one has to admit that the above metaphor is being stretched or perhaps limited by our need to be in our bubble or to be at a physical distance. What does it mean be deeply connected and to share food together as a sign of our relationship? How can we shake hands let alone hold them and say grace, bless a glass and eat in peace and grace together? Sure we can express the metaphor in out bubble if we have one with more than ourselves in it, but is that safe when one or others in our bubble go out of it for supplies?

Well maybe a return to level three or two will enable the metaphor again? But what about relationships? Are they limited to the physical? Does the metaphor not allow for and in fact encourage going beyond the physical? What about the spirit of relationship? How is that manifest without the physical?

The storyteller Luke knows we become what we eat! And his Easter stories are an invitation to share, to journey, and to celebrate. And as his Emmaus story particularly notes, “hospitality is the open door to creative transformation and an expanded vision of possibilities.”  (Bruce Epperly P&F web site, 2008)

Do we need a new metaphor or can we enlarge our understanding of its gift to language and to our ability to be hospitable? Can out language and our concepts of care, compassion, hospitality and love reach beyond the need for the physical and hear the cries of despair beyond the words, beneath the words and no longer accessible though reading body language. Can we tell the stories in a Covid-19 world?

Two stories that speak of our shared experience under Covid-19

Just a Pinch

by Jim Burklo

A pinch of yeast within the flour
A treasure hidden in the ground
We know not the day nor hour
When the pearl is finally found
Secrets held in mustard seeds
Salty grains give food its worth
All our small but loving deeds
Show your presence in the earth

Scenes in the Kitchen

One night I had a dream.

I dreamed I was walking across the room with my God. 

Across my mind flashed scenes from my earlier life.

For each scene, I noticed the presence of my spouse going about tasks.

One scene belonged to me beyond time another to my God.

When the final scene flashed before me,

I looked back at kitchen floor

and I noticed that many times I had walked across the kitchen

there was only one scene to be had.

I also noticed that it happened

at the very lowest and saddest times in my life.

This really bothered me and I asked my God

why it was that once I had decided to follow the Way

my God would walk with me all the way,

but that during the most troublesome times in my life,

there is only one scene with the one I love within it?

I said that I didn’t understand why

when I needed it most I would be left alone

My God replied,

As love we have never left you.

Perhaps during your times of trial and suffering,

when you see only one scene of your loved one,

 it was a time when we were together.

Amen.

Notes:
Alves, R. 1990.  The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet. London. SCM Press/Trinity Press.
Borg, M. J. 2001.  Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally.  New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Fulghum, R. 1995.  From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Moorebank. Bantam Press.
O’Donohue, J. 2003.  Divine Beauty. The Invisible Embrace. London. Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

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