Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Taste and See

‘Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!’ exclaims the writer of Psalm 34. And in quite a few places in the Bible, praying, or reading or hearing the Scriptures, is imagined as being like eating something sweet and lovely.

When we eat, there are lots of things going on. First, there is taste - things we like or dislike, things that are sweet or sour or bitter. Secondly, there is hunger and nutrition: the food we eat nourishes our bodies, and becomes part of us. Thirdly, when we eat with other people that experience helps create a community - whether that's a family Christmas lunch, who you choose to sit with for lunch at school, or having the neighbours round for a barbecue.

All around the world, people have rituals and celebrations which involve eating special foods, from the Thanksgiving turkey to the Spanish tradition of eating 'The Twelve Grapes of Luck' as the clocks strike twelve on New Year's Eve. Sometimes this involves a sequence of particular symbolic foodstuffs to remind the community of important events in the past, as in the Jewish tradition of the Seder meal.

In the Christian tradition, eating the bread and wine of Holy Communion is the central religious observance. Communion (which has different names in different traditions - you may know it as Mass, or the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist) does all sorts of different things. The bread and wine, and the words used in the Eucharistic prayer, remind us of Jesus's last supper with his disciples, and remind us that Jesus died for us. Eating and drinking from the same plate and cup binds us together symbolically - and this is reinforced by the words we often say together, 'though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread'. And eating real food which symbolises and becomes Jesus for us, means that we are choosing to invite God into our lives not just in a vague spiritual sense, but literally into our bodies. By eating something that represents God for us, we can become aware in a very literal way of God becoming an inseparable part of us.

You may already be used to taking communion at your Church, or you may be thinking about preparing for it. In this experiment we're not going to attempt to recreate that, because communion isn't a private thing but is something that should be done by the whole church community gathering together. But here, we're going to try experimenting with eating and drinking different symbolic foods to help you reflect on what they represent, and on the act of eating and drinking as a type of prayer.

This is one of the few experiments that I think may work better as a group activity, because it involves a certain amount of shopping and preparation, not to mention washing up! But don't be put off trying this if you would prefer to just do it on your own.

First, you will need to get your ingredients together. You will need at least four or five of the following. Don't worry if you can't get them all, just use what you can most easily find. I would recommend that you do include the first and the last ones on the list, though, and these are starred.

Arrange them in a line on a table, in the order above. Now eat each one slowly, really concentrating on the taste. As you eat it, read the Bible verse or short note below that goes with each one. When you have swallowed, while the taste is still in your mouth, say a short prayer in your head asking God to help you really take in that idea.

1. Honey/sugar.
'How sweet are your words to my taste,
Sweeter than honey to my mouth!' (Psalm 119:103).

Pray for enjoyment in reading the Bible and for wisdom in finding pleasure in good things.

2. Apple/pear/banana/peach.
In the story of the beginning of the world in Genesis, the writer imagines a garden full of fruit trees, all of which people can eat from except one. But of course, the first people are tempted to eat the fruit of the one tree they have been told not to touch.

'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat...it was a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise....' (from Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:6. Read the whole story: Genesis 2:4-3:24).

Pray for wisdom in knowing good from evil, and for forgiveness when we ignore God.

3. Cucumber/melon.
After the people of Israel had been rescued from slavery in Egypt by Moses, and fed them miraculously with manna in the desert, they started complaining about being in the desert, and having only manna to eat, and remembering only the good things about their old life.

'the Israelites wept, and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.' (Numbers 11:4-5. To read the story of the Exodus from Egypt, see Exodus chapters 1-14).

Pray that you may be thankful for what you have, rather than complaining about what you don't have. Pray for wisdom to let the past go, and not worry about what might have been.

4. A glass of water.
Most of the Bible stories come from a desert context, where finding a spring of water can literally mean the difference between life and death. One day when Jesus was thirsty, he asked a foreign woman to get him a drink from a well.

'Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life'. (John 4: 13-14. Read the whole story: John 4:1-42).

Pray for those who don't have clean water to drink, and thank God for our good fortune in having water on tap. Think about what it might mean to never be thirsty for God.

5. A tuna sandwich (or other bread and fish).
Jesus's miraculous feeding of several thousand people with a small amount of bread and fish is the only miracle (apart from his resurrection) which is recorded in all four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

'When it was evening, the disciples came to Jesus and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves....we have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.' (From Matthew 14:15-20. You can also find this story in Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-14.)

Pray for all those without food today, for charities, for farmers and for scientists who are working to feed the world. Think about what it must have been like to be in that crowd, and what you would have thought about Jesus at that moment.

6. Party food (a chocolate mini roll, posh biscuit, paper cup of lemonade etc).

'Then Levi gave a great banquet for Jesus in his house...The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." Then they said to him, 'John's disciples, and the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink." Jesus said to them, "You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?" (Luke 5:29-34).

Imagine being at a party with Jesus. Pray that churches will welcome everyone, not just those who seem holy enough already.

7. Vinegar.

When Jesus was crucified, one detail that both Luke and John include is that he was given sour wine - vinegar - to drink as he was dying. In Luke's account, this is cruel teasing:

'The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (Luke 23:36-7).

In John's version, it is Jesus's deliberate last act before dying:

'when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said "I am thirsty". A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.' (From John 19:28-30).

Imagine seeing this happen. Pray for those who tease or persecute Christians. Pray for strength and courage for those who are suffering in any way, and for those who are dying.

8. Nine Grapes/Berries/Pineapple chunks.

'The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.' (Galatians 5:22).
Pray for each of these gifts as you eat each piece of fruit.

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We welcome your comments, especially if you have tried the week's exercise yourself! Give it marks out of ten, or just let us know what you think. Please be aware we may quote you if we ever do write this up as book!