Food, Community and the Importance of Metaphor!

Posted: April 19, 2023 in Uncategorized

Food, Community and the Importance of Metaphor!

Here perhaps is the most important and life changing story we find about the celebration of Easter. It invites participation.  It is in the very best sense a faith legend, a core mythos, a central unveiling of the Jesus story. Whatever any actual experience may lie behind the story, it is now an invitation.  It invites us to join the journey of what we call the Jesus Way, the active human participation in a story that unveils the meaning of what it means to be human.

Bill Loader, the Uniting Church theologian from Western Australia suggests that this story. The   ‘Road to Emmaus’ story is indeed a wonderful, original story by the storyteller we call Luke imagining, sharing, celebrating and teaching. Especially ‘imagining’, because imagination never numbs us with a description, nor locks us in literalism or any historical context but coaxes us into a new situation, I would suggest a new and more tenable mysterious truth. This can be said to be the appropriate contextualization that is required in the hermeneutic, the living breathing interpretation of and for the now.

As the story is told and the plot revealed we can find ourselves engaged in the questions, not just asking them but bringing them to life in a new context and in the new possibilities of the story, as a different re-imagining of the world dawns. This is why this story is a great story.
It is first a ‘metaphorical story’ not ‘history remembered’, as Marcus Borg nudges us and reminds us.  (Borg 2001:44)

This is the challenge of parable, of the biblical story that plays with contradiction and rhetoric inviting us for just a moment visit the non-metaphorical historical treatment and note that many brilliant scholars have revisited this story and sought the historical context and the location where Emmaus actually was and four places seem to have been suggested:

  • Amwas, near Latrun – approx. 20 miles from Jerusalem;
  • Abu Ghosh – approx. 7.5 miles from Jerusalem;
  • Qubelba – approx. 7 miles from Jerusalem, and
  • Moza – approx. 4 miles from Jerusalem).

This highlights also the number of others who have heard and interpreted this story. 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 ‘supernaturalist’ 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’. An outcome of these approaches ensures that this new literalistic world can evade our senses and thus our participation in being human in this world. It steals from us the richness of imagination, art poetry and metaphor which is the very essence of the biblical text.

Those of you who are reading this will of course have heard this challenge before, The challenge to move on from the creation of dogma to somehow protect the faith and from doctrine as the listing of so-called facts that are pillars of the faith. To put aside the use of creed and repetition of fact as a pathway to truth and to hear again the song of the sacred. Many of you are living these questions as so-called ‘Progressive Christians”. I’m pretty sure that none of these literalist and proof seeking literary attempts to control and limit resonate with most of you, especially the theology of those suggestions. Indeed, like me you may well be at the point where they be little more than brainteasers that kill off the story. However, their presence doesn’t mean we can’t seek to unravel and appreciate the context of the story. To aid this I want to raise some pointes Rex Hunt has used to help nurture the imagination and thus explore the metaphorical reality.

All stories are very concrete. They ‘live’ within a particular context that we know little about but can discern the image of in a number of ways. One bold suggestion is that this story’s context may have been when some debates were taking  place about how Gentile Jesus followers could sense the present-ness of the Post-Easter Christ after the death of Jesus. This suggests there would have been clever and innovative use of language in order to cross the cultural understandings.

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. So, this is a meal story and a bonding story. The storyteller Luke is grounded enough to know we become what we eat, and that a meal story holds significant weight as a communicative genre.

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. Not just as food for the body but also as the place where conversation becomes sacred, transformative and creative, not just a place where fear or anxiety driven questions take place but also where they are recognised as vital for life and for community as questions that are part of the human life journey. Discussion and debate are crucial in an oral culture and they will still hold such importance in a cross-cultural exercise. Last week we dealt with the part doubt plays in this context. Indeed, ‘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)

It’s very likely that Luke 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)

We can also assume that in the continued celebration of meals – early Christianity often called it ‘breaking of bread’ -which was motivated primarily by the needs of community, rather than establishing or remembering the so-called ‘upper room’ meal event. There was an embodied practical reason for the meal in the first instance. This story then is not a forerunner to, or about, Holy Communion and it certainly has got nothing to do with the Roman Catholic doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’! But on the other hand, because all religious language is metaphorical…
When bread and wine common meals and BBQs are eaten, they become body and blood. Our body and blood.  And when they are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. Our compassionate deeds. And 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)

Because the storyteller Luke knows we become what we eat! 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)

The disciples travel on a journey chatting together; human beings are social beings who live the journey of conscious life as community; they share stories of their experience; others join unexpectedly and bring their life stories as well; the stories are embodied in the new context. They recognize that their stories have different contexts and experiences even while they don’t recognise the message being introduced by the stranger. They share the story of how their concerns about change and the richness of life have been lost in circumstance and human power and control and manipulation even from those they have considered wise and leaders. They don’t know what to make of the events that brought about this change in their lives and they talked about the failure of reasoning as a path towards an answer. And then it was only when sitting in the most vulnerable place at the meal table they saw what was never there, the purpose of their life’s journey walking the Jesus Way as response to the opportunities presented in their metaphorical reality.

The Easter story beyond the historical and literal execution as a criminal and the literalization and individualization of the resurrection story is the invitation. The cross is about the systemic collective use of a violent act upon a truth and the later personalization of a collective national symbol of restoration personified by the use of words such as ‘died for our sins’ as opposed to ‘was executed as a pawn in the struggle to retain social political and religious power’. The Emmaus Road story that invites us to contextualize a metaphor as opposed to literalize and control the truth. Amen.

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


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