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Sunday 18 August 2024 Trinity 12, Twentieth in Ordinary time, Proper 15

You are what you eat

Proverbs 9:1-6; John 6:51-58

By Mark Pryce
Director of Ministry for Church of England Birmingham and Chaplain to The King

Context: a Holy Communion service involving a large and varied congregation of adults, including HE students, in a city parish including a university and university hospitals

Aim: to focus on the biblical language and significance of food in reference to Christ who nourishes and shapes our lives

You are what you eat…is a familiar phrase. It has a history of its own ? a narrative to the phrase which goes a long way back.

Most recently, You are what you eat is a TV series studying the impact of different diets on pairs of twins. In the 1960s and 70s, You are what you eat promoted campaigns for wholemeal bread, brown rice, and green tea. In 1942 the American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr’s book You Are What You Eat sold millions. Before Lindlahr, in 1863, Ludwig Feuerbach wrote: ‘Man is what he eats.’ In 1826 the French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are’. Food shapes human identity and culture as well as physiology.

We are familiar with this insight through the ancient wisdom of Holy Scripture. The Hebrew Bible doesn’t use the phrase You are what you eat, but the concept is there. Proverbs teaches that God’s wisdom nourishes our lives:

‘You who are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
‘Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity and live
and walk in the way of insight.’

In the long story of God’s saving grace, Israel is what Israel eats. In Exodus, God’s gifts of manna and quail in the desert assure Israel of divine protection and guidance. God’s abiding presence with Israel is celebrated through the Passover meal (Exodus 13). These food experiences are central to Jewish identity. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy observing religious dietary practices give a fundamental way for Israel to be faithful to their vocation as God’s chosen people. We see our Jewish neighbours in this city continuing to be faithful to God, sustaining their religious commitments in observing dietary laws. Our Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu neighbours also express their spirituality through food and drink.

Do you ever wonder if Christian identity might feel stronger if we had a distinctive diet like other religions? The Christian approach to food is to welcome every diet. Early followers of Jesus expressed the distinctiveness of what God has done in Christ by deciding that holiness is not tied to specific foods or dietary practices: children, women and men of all cultures and cuisines are welcomed to follow Jesus in their own way, eating their own food. Peter’s vision in Acts 11 reveals that all foods are acceptable to God; the first Council at Jerusalem affirms that new Christians are not bound to follow Jewish dietary practices (Acts 15:29). A welcoming openness to all food and drink cultures expresses the radical welcome of Christ to people of every origin and inclination.

In the biblical spirit of God’s abiding presence, protection and nourishment expressed through food and drink, Jesus describes himself in terms of food:
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (John 6:51).

In Christ, God nourishes the life of the world. In Christ, God welcomes all who come to him through the invitation to share food together, the bread and wine of the supper of the Lord: ‘The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf’ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
You are what you eat…for us, as followers of Jesus, the bread and wine in the Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood. Sharing together in Holy Communion makes us Christians and gives us spiritual renewal as disciples. Participation of all in this one meal re-members what God has done for us in Christ, binding us in peace with one another. Participating in Christ who is bread and wine, the long story of God’s grace feeds us at the source of our lives, so that, as the invitation to communion says, we may:
Draw near with faith.
Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which he gave for you,
and his blood which he shed for you.
Eat and drink in remembrance that he died for you,
and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.


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