Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Language of Food"

Psalm 104: 14-15, 27-28; 107: 8-9

John 6: 41-51

      How many remember this little commercial jingle from the past:  “Nothing says loving like

something from the oven?”  That jingle was the basis for a massive advertising campaign by the

Pillsbury Company;  a campaign which also introduced us to the soft and pudgy Pillsbury Dough

Boy.  The words of that memorable jingle were not only catchy, but very true.  A well-prepared

meal is a way of saying, “I love you, and I care.”  Similarly, night after night of take-out pizza or

McDonald’s fast food sends a message of its own.  The point is, food is a language of sorts, a

way of expressing ourselves.  Think about it. 

Food is one of the first ways we have of communicating with our children.

  Whether from the breast, or bottle, of jar of Gerbers, if a hungry child is fed promptly,

it communicates to the child that the world is a safe and secure place. Alternatively, if the child’s

cries of hunger go unattended, that child is likely to grow up wary and suspicious.

      Don’t you know that every family has its own “language” of food.  In my own family, as perhaps

in yours, turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes mean Thanksgiving.  Roast beef and several sides of

pasta mean Christmas.  Pork, sauerkraut and potato pancakes mean New Years.  Baked ham, pineapple

and egg noodles mean Easter.  A major disappointment in life may call for grandmother’s chicken and dumplings.

  Graduation from college may call for a meal at the best restaurant in town.  When I was in high school and

my friends would come to our house to play cards or board games, the occasion called for my mother’s so-called

“Pizza in a pinch:”  a thick slice of Italian bread covered with pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese grilled in the drawer beneath the oven. 

      None of us has ever eaten a ‘mere meal.’  Every morsel of food we’ve ingested transmits more

than just calories to our bodies.  Food coveys a multitude of associations.   When we eat a meal,

the food embodies something of the person who prepared it.  The recipes themselves embody

cultural, and community, and family traditions.  The stuff of a single meal, in fact, represents the

labors of many people – the cook who prepared it, the grocer who provided it, the trucker who

delivered it, the farmer who grew it or raised it, the agricultural workers who harvested it.  All

this gives us something to think about when we sit down at table and sometimes take for granted

the food which is set before us.

      When Jesus said as recorded in John’s Gospel, “…the bread that I will give for the life of the

world is my flesh,” many were shocked and confused.  If we read beyond this morning’s passage,

we find that the Jews disputed among themselves what Jesus could possibly have meant by this

saying.  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?,” they asked themselves and one another.

Of course, they were missing Jesus’ point. 

      I myself am not a cook.  But let’s say for the sake of this message that I invited you to dinner in

my home and prepared my famous shells stuffed with sausage and peppers.  You would be more

than just dining with me.  To the extent that I put myself into the meal – my creativity, my planning,

my time, my labor – you would be taking part of me into your life. 

      Like those who were offended by Jesus’ claim that His “flesh” was “the bread that I will give

for the life of the world,”  many Protestants have a hard time with the Roman Catholic doctrine

of what’s called “transubstantiation” – the actual presence of Christ in the “host,” the bread and

the wine.  Although we differ with Catholics on this theology of Holy Communion,  could we not

appreciate this doctrine as an elaborate explanation of how, for example, whenever we make Aunt

Ruth’s apple pie recipe, we feel her presence?   

      When I served as pastor in Carrollton, Tony started coming to the church after he had lost his

 

wife Elaine after forty years of marriage.  He had not been to church in many years, but became

very regular after Elaine’s passing.  We would often do communion by intinction where worshipers

would come forward to receive the loaf and cup.  Tony would always remain in his seat. 

      One particular Sunday after worship, we had a chance to sit and talk.  “I just don’t get it,”

Tony stated.  “Get what?” I replied, assuming he meant my sermon.  “The bread,” Tony said.  “Why

do you say ‘The body of Christ’ when the people take it?”  While my temptation was to launch into

a mini-lecture on transubstantiation, consubstantiation, the real presence of Christ, and so on, I

simply asked Tony, “What was Elaine’s favorite food to make you?”  Forcing back tears, Tony

quickly answered, “My Elaine loved to grill a good hamburger with a slice of onion.”  Then I asked,

“When you have a hamburger with a slice of onion since her passing, does it feel like Elaine is there

with you?”  Tony’s eyes lit up.  He got it, and never again sat in the pew alone while everyone else

came forward for communion. 

      If we can transmit a little of ourselves to others by preparing and sharing a meal with them,

how much more can Jesus transmit Himself to us through the sacrament of bread and wine? 

Jesus poured Himself out fully on the cross, and in a mysterious exchange, He comes to us when

we share bread and wine in His name;  when we do this in remembrance of Him.  The sacrament

we celebrate this morning at the Lord’s Table works in two directions simultaneously.  It is an

encounter with Christ who offers Himself to us in the symbols of loaf and cup.  But it also serves

as an occasion for us to offer ourselves to Christ – our faith, our substance, our very lives. 

      An English theologian by the name of William Temple observed that in placing the bread and

the wine on the altar, “we have offered our ‘earthly’ goods to God.  He gives them back to us as

heavenly goods, binding us into union with Christ…. so that we give not only our goods but our

selves, and thus become strengthened as members of His Body to do His will.”

      The blessing at the end of King’s College’s service of lessons and carols at Christmastime puts

it beautifully:  “May Christ, who by his incarnation, gather into one, things earthly and heavenly.”

That is precisely what happens when we share bread and cup in Christ’s name – Christ gathers

things earthly and heavenly into ones, and here they meet.

      As we come to the table this morning, heaven and earth meet.  Christ comes to us in bread

and cup, but the bread and cup are also our lives offered to Christ.  The mystery is not that bread

and juice are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ.  The far more mysterious and

wondrous transformation is that Christ takes and transforms us into His body – the hands and

feet, the eyes and ears to do His will in the world He loves and gave His life to save.  So in all due

respect to Pillsbury, perhaps we can change the wording of the jingle a bit:  “Nothing says loving

like something from the table…. of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Come then and partake of this well-

prepared meal which is God’s ways of saying through the language of food, “I love you, and I care.”