September 10, 2017
As I sat with this text this week, I wondered what part of the story would eventually call me and as I do each week I asked questions like, “what part of this story wants to be shared through me?” While some weeks that question is answered early on, there are others where this question lingers for a while. Well this time the question lingered, but then it came to me, and I couldn’t believe it took so long. Right there, central to this story, is the sharing of food. The building of community by and through food and the call to celebrate all that God has done while remembering what you had been through to get here.
As you know by now, the power Food can have on our Faith is an important concept to me, so when this part of the story started speaking to me I began thinking about all of the traditions in my own life, and the celebrations involving food.
Rather quickly, I thought about November of 1996 when I sat down for my annual Thanksgiving meal with people who were not part of my family. Although Amy and I had been dating for a couple of years at that point, my playing soccer in college prevented me from being able to join her and her family while still in college. Now that my soccer career was over we were able to begin new traditions for ourselves, and eating our Thanksgiving meal with her family has been our tradition ever since 1996.
Now, unfortunately, Amy didn’t tell me about family specific dishes served at this meal before we sat down to eat. So as luck would have it, as I am sitting and starting to take my first bite, all eyes seemed to turn toward me and then I heard her mom say, “I see that you didn’t get any banana salad…” to which I responded, “Ma’am?” Now, I knew there was a dish on the counter with all the other dishes that I chose to refrain from trying as I went through the line and loaded my plate. The thing is, I had no idea what it was when I looked at it and even though I was not as picky as I was in my youth, I remember thinking it didn’t look as good as everything else. Not to mention my plate was already overflowing.
Then Bobbie question the absence of this dish on my plate, but even knowing the name, “banana salad” didn’t help me have a clue about what it was. Well evidently, this is a dish that is a Queen Family tradition and so like many family traditions, when a potential new member of the family shows up, they want to see if he/she will join in the tradition.
Now, perhaps I didn’t pick up on the cues of how important this Banana Salad was to Mike, Bobbie and Brett, but I do recall Amy boldly saying, I don’t know why Jason has to try it… I don’t like it. Nonetheless, when the boyfriend is still a boyfriend, he will, or should, be open enough to try and embrace the unique traditions of the family of the one he loves, so I excused myself from the table only to return a few seconds later with a spoonful of this stuff on my plate.
With all eyes turned toward me again, I took a spoonful of banana salad and put it in my mouth. I proceeded to chew and chew and after swallowing, let fly a saying that I had not previously known was unique to the Knight Family, “WOW… THAT STUFF IS NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION!” Maybe for a brief moment I thought I was with my family, because I was laughing like normal when I looked up and saw the look on Bobbie’s face. Lets just say, she was not laughing, and truth be told she was hurt by my comment and it didn’t matter if I meant it as a joke or not. In fact, some 21 years later, the Queens, but especially Bobbie, remembers me saying that about the Banana Salad.
While we can all, hopefully, look back on that day and laugh a little, this happening in my life has served to reveal something else about celebrations and rituals and food. For one thing, they seem to go hand and hand. When I think about our various family holidays and traditions, it doesn’t take me long to think about the presence of food. Whether its Turkey, stuffing and the infamous Banana Salad at Thanksgiving with Amy’s family, or the entirely new, never before tried recipes of Christmas Eve at my Mom’s house, food is a critical part of my family celebrations, and I have to believe it is for you too. In many ways, I believe, the celebration/ritual itself would be different if food were not a part of these celebrations.
As one scholar has said, “There is something about eating together—something about the gathering and preparing, the seeing and sharing, something about the bounty of the table that makes us pause, reflect, remember, and tell. Special occasions call for special food and special people, friends and family; special occasions with special food and people call for those special stories that make the circle whole...”
Something else occurred to me as I’ve reflected on this experience, food has the power to tell a story, and when that food is a critical part of traditions and celebrations, the story can connect people to their past and inform their future. But only if the story is shared. Which brings us to this week’s passage.
At the outset, this passage concerns food, memory and celebration. This passage reflects on the Jewish tradition of gathering certain people together to eat certain foods and to worship God. And while Christianity claims another instance of gathering people to consume certain items in worship, this type of celebration is firmly rooted in Judaism. More than that, though, I wonder if we Christians might find the courage to learn something about the significance and meaning of this Passover meal, both to those early Jews and to Jews of today. And if we summon such courage, then maybe we will begin to better incorporate the worship of God in our own food centered celebrations.
To do this, I believe we must first know that the Passover was, and is, the central celebration of the Hebrew faith. This is why the details, which first served to protect the people, but would later serve as a reminder, are so important. Without the details, this celebration would lack the depth necessary to comprehend why it remains the central celebration for Jews each and every year it is celebrated. In order to understand the reason for celebration it is critical to first know that Exodus as a whole is a story of Liberation. A story of God hearing and responding to the call of an oppressed people, God’s people, crying out for freedom. A story of God’s love that sets people free.
I have never had the privilege of attending a Jewish Passover meal, but I hope one day I will be able to do so. As I understand it, each and every year, in response to God’s command that this meal be celebrated down through the generations, Jewish families come together for a time of great joy and celebration to share a meal that is festive, biblically focused, and God-honoring. Everything about the meal has profound meaning.
As I’ve come to understand, at Passover, the youngest son rises and asks, “Why is this night special (or different) from all other nights?” What is commemorated is the climax of the plagues in Egypt and Israel’s deliverance to freedom. From all I hear the food is delicious but it s also richly symbolic.
Bitter herbs to remind them of Israel’s suffering.
Harosset to remind them of the mortar they used as slaves.
Matzot or unleavened bread to remind them how they left in a hurry.
And of course a bit of lamb, remembering the blood and sacrifice.
You see, the eating of these particular foods is critically important, if one of the goals is remembrance. These foods are the reminder that you were once a slave, but God ultimately protected & liberated you from that bondage. And it is that liberation that allows for celebration. It is that new beginning that comes each and every year that allows for celebration and giving of thanks to God who was there all along and freed God’s people.
One of the great themes of the Bible, which begins in the Hebrew Scriptures and is continued in Jesus, is the preferential option for the poor, or the bias from the bottom. About 1200 years before Christ, Israel was at the bottom, an enslaved people in Egypt. The Exodus, the great journey of the Hebrew people out of slavery and finally into the Promised Land, is an archetype of the interior spiritual journey from entrapment to liberation. It is the universal story.
Liberation theology focuses on freeing people from religious, political, social, and economic oppression. It goes beyond just trying to free individuals from their own particular “naughty behaviors,” which is what sin has seemed to mean to most Christian people in our individualistic culture.
Liberation theology, instead of legitimating the status quo, tries to read reality, history, and the Bible not from the side of the powerful, but from the side of the pain. Its beginning point is not sin management, but “Where is the suffering?” This makes all the difference in how we read the Bible.
God sees all the many kinds of suffering in the world. The world tends to define poverty and riches simply in terms of economics. But poverty has many faces—weakness, dependence, or humiliation. Essentially, poverty is a lack of means to accomplish what one desires, be it lack of money, relationships, influence, power, intellectual ability, physical strength, freedom, or dignity. Scriptures promise that God will take care of such people, because they know they have to rely on God.
This passage is about freedom from slavery.
It’s about new beginnings.
It’s about leaving your old bound self behind.
And the sharing of food is at the center of it all.
The sharing of specific food that comes from a specific family tradition, but connects all families.
The sharing that tells a story about who your ancestors were and whose shoulders you now stand as you dream about a future where you are free to be who God intended.
The kind of sharing that begins with a question that surely leads to others…
Tell me again, won’t you, why this night is special (or different) from all other nights?
Please tell me again why this particular food is so important?
You see, its stories like these, its traditions like these, that will link us to our past. Its stories like these and traditions like these that help us understand a little bit more about who we are. And its stories like these and traditions like these that carry forth God’s promise of Liberation to God’s people.
So, as I think about food and memory and celebrations I have begun to wonder what First Baptist Church of Jamestown might look like if we became a Christian community that took seriously this call to celebrate by sharing a meal that is festive, biblically focused, and God-honoring. A meal that reaches beyond our family and touches those outside our family. What might we look like?
Dear God, it is my heartfelt prayer, that we find out.
 Steagald, Thomas R., The Way to a Nation’s Heart, ministrymatters.com
 Rohr, Richard, Roots of Liberation