Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord — John 21:12
This is such a stunning scene in context of St. John’s Gospel. Breakfast being served by the now risen Jesus, only days after his horrific execution. God-made-Cook wishes to eat with his friends, with food he has prepared. The surreal transcendence of this scene is reminiscent of Moses and his companions’ dizzying experience in Exodus 24:9-11, as they were summoned up Mount Sinai to dine with God:
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel … they beheld God, and they ate and drank.”
This same God, who pitched his tent with Israel by becoming flesh (John 1:14), and pledged that he would feed us with his own flesh and blood (John 6:52ff), tells us in Revelation 3:24,
Behold! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
God desires intimacy with us, and again and again in Scripture it is the covenant family meal that stands at the center of that call to intimacy. Indeed, the meal perfectly frames an intimacy that is at once vertical and horizontal, bringing God close to us, and us close to each other. In middle eastern culture, the meal reigns supreme as a sign of friendship, of encounter, of trust, of love’s willingness to share life and waste time with others. As Jennifer Grant once commented,
I have a friend who lived for several years in the Middle East, in Baghdad and Dubai. He is currently at seminary, preparing to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. Last summer, as the two of us ate crusty bread and double-cream blue cheese, and drank glasses of good pinot noir, he told me that eating together, or “breaking bread,” is considered an act of worship for his Muslim friends. In the Middle East, he said, people who are merely acquaintances do not “grab lunch” together. Eating together is too intimate an act to be shared with strangers. It is too important. It is holy somehow.
This “eucharistic” view of eating and drinking, which stands at the heart of Scripture, must be seen as defining for people of faith. It should shape a Christian-inspired culture that wishes to welcome God’s ongoing desire to extend his tent-pitching Incarnation and divinize the whole of creation — through us. In every meal, humans, who are the priests of nature, ingest the created order and raise it up, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, to God — and, in Christ, with God.
I remember when I worked at a Jewish nursing home in Connecticut back in 1989, a resident named Golda once said to me, “You know when you Catholics went all wrong? When you stopped your meatless Fridays. See, when you take God out of the kitchen and dining room, everything falls apart. It’s why we Jews are so fixated on kosher laws. It keeps us always mindful that God is in food.”
It’s why family meals are a non-negotiable for those who wish to mesh their family with divinity. It’s also why, when people want to speak with me about matters of significance, I prefer not my sterile office, but the coffee shop, the brewery, or a dining room table.