Food plays a role in three of the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. [Luke 24:30-32; 41-42; John 21:12-14] In every case, the sharing and eating of food reinforces the experience of being in the presence of the risen Christ and binds the community of believers together.
We eat routinely, but we also mark special occasions, like the waning days of the school year, by gathering around food. I believe that both our routine eating and celebrations can serve as opportunities to engage in the practice of resurrection in our own lives.
On the face of it, Jesus seems to incorporate food and eating into his resurrection appearances out of two motivations, to identify himself through the shared memory of the disciples and to demonstrate the physicality of his own resurrection. While with the two disciples in Emmaus, Jesus takes bread, breaks and blesses it, and then offers it to his dinner companions. This action seems to jolt them back to a memory of his last supper with them on the night of his betrayal when he did the very same thing and identified the broken bread as his own body. It’s as though Jesus is saying, “See, it’s really me. Don’t you remember when I did this and called you to do it again and remember?” The repetition of the action and the experience of the presence of Christ describes what will become a regular meal among in the community of believers. Memory leads to formation and formation creates to discipleship. In the case of the accounts of Jesus appearance to his disciples in Jerusalem and that of his offering of breakfast on the beach in Galilee, the offering and eating of food reinforces Jesus’ own physicality. Jesus says it himself “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The food confirms the tangible reality of the whole situation.
Yet, even while Jesus is using food to identify himself as a real risen body, the food he blesses brings more. It must have been a relief to have Jesus’ offer of breakfast after the disciples had worked all night, fishing. My guess is that the food tasted good, because of their hunger, because of inherent pleasure of good food and because of the great company. In his book Living the Resurrection Eugene Peterson asks the question: “Is there anything else we do as frequently and simply that combines necessity and pleasure so unselfconsciously, unpretentiously and commonly as preparing and eating a meal with family or friends or guests?” Food as necessity and pleasure, these are signs of life. Bring that together with memory (or formation in discipleship) and eating together is a sign of the resurrection.
And there’s still more. The gift of food and the act of eating is among the means by which God provides life for us and is an invitation into a cycle of life and sacrifice -- even if you keep a vegan diet. Other living things must die in order for us to have the life that they carry for us. It is a metaphor of the mystery of the work of Christ’s sacrifice among us.
So, whether you’re grabbing a quick bite on your way to class or sitting among your dearest friends for one last meal together before you all go your separate ways, your body and the food you need call you into a celebration of the resurrection which Jesus has begun among us.
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.