A few words of introduction before I read Scripture this morning…. Our theme for this month is “Food & Table.” Food and Table. These two things are essential, core to our existence. To live we have to eat and drink. Some of us eat and drink fast food in our houses. Sometimes we eat and drink standing up. Or we do it alone sitting at our desks in our work places. So while it is clear that food and eating are essential, it isn’t as clear that tables are vital to our existence. Tables are real, physical things, and their purpose is that we sit at them and eat with others. We don’t always do that, we’re not always able to, but, at their best, this is what tables are for—they are places for being in communion with other folk.
Protestant churches all have dining tables in them. We call them the Lord’s Table, or the Communion Table. They’re usually fancy like this one, and never big enough for all of us to sit down together, so they function more like a symbol than an actual dining table, which I always think is kind of a bummer. We have to use our imaginations to grasp the reality that we are dining together with God. So every week we are together this month we are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we’re going to “be at Table together,” in some way, shape, or form. And as we talk about food and table, we will take our cues from the Lord’s Supper, using John van de Laar’s book called Food for the Road—Life lessons from the Lord’s Table, as a place to begin. The Lord’s Table teaches us about our every day lives in lots of different ways which we will explore this month. My assignment this morning is to focus on what the very beginning and the very end of the Biblical story tell us about food and table.
Our first reading is from Genesis 2. Listen for the word of the Lord.
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed Adam (which means earth creature) from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east…. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches that flow to the nations.
15 The Lord God took the earth creature and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded him: You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Our second reading is from the book of Revelation, St. John’s vision of God’s new heaven and new earth. Listen for the echoes of the creation story from Genesis.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads, and they will share in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. 5 There will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
In the opening chapter of his book, John van de Laar tells the story of his wife who frequently asks him: “How do I know that you love me?” The question makes him crazy. “How can she even ask this,” he thinks to himself. Then he proceeds down a variety of paths to point to all the ways she should know that he loves her. He says, “I do this for you and I do that for you.” It doesn’t satisfy her. The next time she asks, he says, “I am faithful to you, always, always, faithful to you.” It doesn’t satisfy her. The next time she asks he says, “I made promises to you the day we married. You can trust that I will keep my promises.” It doesn’t satisfy her. Finally, one day when she asked, “How do I know that you love me,” he leapt out of his chair, took her in his arms, and kissed her on the mouth, for a long time, with the full force of his love. He responded to her not with words, but with his body. He got physical with her. This finally satisfied her.
With this story of passionately kissing his wife to show that he loves her, Van de Laar begins his discussion of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament and creation as a sacramental reality. A sacrament is a visible, physical, material sign of the invisible presence and activity of God. In the ordinary, physical gifts of bread and wine (or grape juice), God reveals God’s self, God gives God’s self, God becomes active in us and present to us. In the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we experience particularly strong moments of God’s self-giving and love. God uses the stuff of the physical world to communicate to our physical selves the fact that God loves us. Think of the Lord’s Supper as that moment when God comes and wraps his or her arms around you and draws you in and holds you tight and kisses you passionately to say without words, “This is how you know that I love you.” The sacrament is a visible, material, physical sign of the invisible presence and activity of God. The sacrament is sensual. It engages our senses. We see, and touch, and smell, and taste, and take into ourselves the life, the goodness, the love of God. This is how God makes out with us and makes love to us.
But this physical, material, sensual experience of God’s love doesn’t begin with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It begins with creation. It begins with a garden, planted by God, watered by the river of life, full of trees, that are good to look at—a feast for the eyes, a riot of colors and shapes—and good to eat, a party for human taste buds, and nourishment for human bodies. The garden is life-giving. The garden is God’s love made visible. It is God’s embrace, God’s passionate kiss, a manifestation of God’s beauty and goodness and presence. When the garden is ready, God places Adam, the earth creature there to delight in it and enjoy it’s fruits and to care for it.
We live in a sacramental universe. That is to say, that God is disclosed and discovered here and now on earth and in our every day, ordinary human lives. All of the physical reality that surrounds us “is potentially or in fact the bearer of God’s presence and the instrument of God’s loving, life-renewing activity.” Through materiality, through our human physicality, in the fragile and fleeting things of this earth we experience the divine. In a sacramental world the love and grace of God is experienced in the taste of a watermelon and the tickle of the juices running down your arm, in the delicately white-speckled skin of a zucchini, the tightly layered orb of an onion, the dense oily wool on a sheep, the popping seediness of a pomegranate, the hatted beauty of an acorn, the ripple of a stream over rocks, the fleshy embrace of a loved one.
The material world is full of the grace, and beauty and love of God. But the truth is that the world is also broken. Not beautiful. Not delightful. Not full of only grace. Not saturated only with love. There is evil, badness, suffering, grief, conflict, tension. Rivers and lakes are polluted. Oceans are filled with plastic. People get cancer. 29 people are dead this morning from Mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. All is not well in the world. All is not well with us.
The story of creation is a story about the original goodness, the graced-ness and sacredness of God’s sacramental world, and it is also a story that wrestles with the reality of evil and brokenness in the world. How does God’s world, God’s good creation get like this? The answer the Genesis story gives us points to the freedom of human beings to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God was clear that the tree was off limits. But it was there, in the garden, within flat-footed reach. These first human beings already knew and experienced the good. And as the story goes, when they ate the fruits of the forbidden tree, the opened the door to the experience and thus the knowledge of evil. It is a metaphor that points to a truth. Human beings over-reach. We take what isn’t ours to take. We trust our own wisdom more than we trust the wisdom of God. We seek our own desires more than we seek God’s desires. We cause evil to become a part of God’s good creation.
Perhaps God can be faulted for creating human beings in freedom, but not for the choices we make in using our freedom for good or for ill. But I say God must be praised for creating us with freedom, with the capacity to be genuinely responsive and responsible in our relationships. We are not puppets on God’s string. God wants real relationship. God risked a great deal in creating human beings with freedom, and yet God sustains us in our freedom, and daily woos us to live from the free, abundant, love and grace and life of God.
We live in a sacramental, good, grace-filled universe. But this reality is obscured by the brokenness we know in ourselves and experience and propagate in the world. We are need of healing and redemption. The world is in need of healing and redemption. So God gives us the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, this very particular, privileged, and intensified expression of God’s sacramental world, in which through the chomping of bread, and the drinking of grape juice, we take into ourselves, into our bodies, into our spirits, the true and real presence of God in Jesus Christ. And through our eating and drinking, we are taken into the reality of God’s new heaven and new earth, where the river of life flows, and the tree of life grows bearing the fruits that heal all the brokenness and take away all the evil, and the light that is the triune God overwhelms all the darkness. And all nations and peoples sit at Table to share in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ who was slain and now lives and reigns forever and ever.
There is a whole lot that comes to us through these little chunks of yeasty bread and drops of sweet purple juice. And having shared in this Wedding Feast, we go back into our daily lives with a clear perspective on all that is aching and broken. All is being healed. All is being redeemed. We are being healed. We are being redeemed by the sensual love of God. Through this Supper we can know ourselves as the physical manifestation of the love of God. And we can know our neighbors and the stranger as the physical manifestation of the love of God. And we can sit at every day tables, and taste and see the goodness of God in a freshly baked bagel and celebrate the presence, and life, and grace of God in the pink watermelon juice dripping off from our chins, and give thanks for all of it, and with our bodies be the sacrament, the visible sign and presence of God’s love in the world.