Easter Sunday, 9 Apr 23
Why do you eat? I suspect most of us instinctively say, “Because we’re hungry.” Correct? Presumably if that were true - that we only ate when we were hungry - then none of us would be overweight because the assumption would be that we would stop eating when we weren’t hungry (and I say this as someone who is very much experiencing what we might call the middle aged spread!). So, why do we eat? There must be some other desires within us at work. It might be for particular tastes, yes: we feel like something sweet, or something warm when it’s cold outside, or something refreshing when we have a dry mouth or whatever it might be. Some of the time it will be greed: eating what we don’t need because the packet of biscuits or the bottle of wine needs finishing off really.
My sisters and and brothers, we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Death had seemed to have won but because of the indestructible life of God, that which made everything apparently hopeless actually meant eternal life was within humanity’s grasp. That tomb was empty as we’ve just heard in our Gospel reading! And for two inscrutable arguments we can believe this testimony: first, the transformation of the Apostles from a chaotic, frightened and dispersed group as they were when Jesus died in to the most effective missionary force the world has ever seen can only be testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit in them and the supreme victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And secondly, if the first century Christians were making this up, that the Lord had risen, they would have made up the tomb discovered empty by someone considered by first century society as more credible, someone a bit more middle class, someone preferably male; they would not have concocted a story whereby the first witness to the empty tomb was a woman. So our joy is grounded in confident trust.
And in some ways the Gospels could have ended there. Indeed there’s quite a bit of evidence to say St Mark’s Gospel originally ended precisely there in Chapter 15:8 with the disciples having found the empty tomb where they see a young man dressed in a white robe who has explained that Jesus is risen. St Mark records that the women who had gone to the tomb “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” It’s a dramatic ending but it would have been a huge pity not to know something about Our Lord’s Resurrection appearances, which we have recorded in the other three Gospels. The power though of the original version of St Mark’s account is we know without it being said that Mary Magdalene and the others didn’t say nothing for long. They couldn’t contain themselves otherwise we would’t be hearing the Good News of our Lord’s Resurrection proclaimed here in Tottenham today let alone the billions of other places through the ages where it has been made known that Death has been swallowed up in victory, having lost its sting, thanks to Jesus the Risen Lord.
So, what of these Resurrection appearances? Well, one of the striking things about them is that Jesus usually appears at meals. Again, I really don’t think you could have made that up. The temptation would be to say the Risen Jesus appeared in holy places maybe, or only at the empty tomb, or on eerie roadsides maybe, but no. Jesus continues to be at the heart of ordinary life, as people say “Pass the pepper sauce,” or whatever it might be. Let’s look at some instances of this.
First, there’s the Supper at Emmaus, recorded in St Luke 24:13-35. The Risen Jesus is not recognised at first when he appears to Cleopas and another, unnamed disciple, perhaps the Evangelist Luke himself. They get chatting and end up at Emmaus where they say to their co-traveller, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” And what else would the Risen Lord do but continue what He had done with the Disciples at the Last Supper: “He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” And - poof! - their eyes were opened and they realised this was indeed the Lord and their hearts burned within them and understood the predictions of the Lord’s death more clearly.
And secondly, St John 21:1-14 records another meal. This time seven of the Apostles had gathered by the Sea of Tiberias and the scene begins with Peter saying, “I am going fishing.” Perhaps there’s despondency in these words: he feels the only hope he has is to return to the old work he’d been doing before the Lord’s call. Jesus helps them to catch the fish, a venture which had previously been unfruitful, like everything we try to do without hope in the Risen Lord. And the Risen Jesus says to them, “Come and have breakfast.” It’s so wonderfully ordinary! And Jesus gives them bread and fish, just as He had done when He fed crowds of thousands miraculously during the three years before His death.
So let’s appreciate the meals we have and I want to suggest some ways we can do this.
First, let’s not see food simply as stocking up on energy levels so we can then do the next set of tasks. So often the temptation is to become robotic in our eating and treat ourselves like cars which just need to be filled up at the petrol station or the electric charging point. If God had intended us to be like that He’d have made us quite different. One much larger existential question we face in our society is the relationship with have to tools, technology, work and gadgets and it will perhaps become increasingly prominent in discussions as we come to grips with artificial intelligence, pushing the boundaries of what robots can do. In this we will all need to be clear that we were made in the image of God and this gives us a dignity. When eating becomes always a basic question of replenishing energy levels we have lost something of that dignity; in the same way we have to ensure we get the relationship right with technology, not letting it be our master, but enabling it to help us to live out the call God has given us.
Secondly, let’s reconnect with meals, which are to be places of encounter and discovery. They require service and to stop what we’re doing for a moment and to let someone else determine the speed at which we eat, reminding us that we need something beyond ourselves by which to be nourished. Maybe the other people will eat quicker or slower than us and this is good for us in seeking to bear with one another. So, if you don’t eat with people can I encourage you to do so? And if you do so, maybe start doing it with a little more openness in your heart to the possibilities at that table or on the sofa with those whom we eat. Our lunch clubs are excellent opportunities to do this and they’re also always in need of volunteers. The Kemble Club meets every other Sunday, including next Sunday, in Kemble Hall, and on Tuesdays after the 12.15pm Mass there is lunch at the Good Shepherd.
Thirdly, and as part of this, if you only normally eat with people when the TV or whatever is on please have at least one meal a week when you actually speak to each other. This isn’t because the Church is about returning life to 1950s Britain but because there seems to be something intrinsic in the way we are made which makes the intake of food a communal event where we are refreshed in the place we have within the world God has made good. One question the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper suggests we ask of ourselves concerning meals and leisure time more generally is when deciding what to do and how to conduct ourselves: “Does this make me more disposed to worship God?” Each meal should drive us in this direction of being more inclined to worship God. We’re made to worship God and food and meals should remind us of this noblest of tasks about which we are to be about.
And finally think about when you give food to people: it could be giving your younger sibling a biscuit, your grandparents breakfast in bed, carrying the tray of McDonalds to the table, the person you put the rice on the plate or in the takeaway pot for. Whoever these people are and occasions are when you distribute food, value it as an opportunity for service. St Benedict wrote a rule for monks fifteen hundred years ago. He takes the serving of meals seriously: “such service increases reward and fosters love.” And as often is the case he suggests small considerations which will help the flowing of the community: “An hour before mealtime, the kitchen workers of the week should each receive a drink and some bread over and above the regular portion, so that at mealtime, they may serve their brothers without grumbling or hardship.” If having something to eat before the meal means we serve with greater cheer than it is worth doing. Great wisdom.
Happy Easter, my friends! The two disciples observed that their hearts were warmed after the Risen Jesus had opened the Scriptures to them and revealed Himself to them in the Breaking of Bread. May this be true of our Mass as we celebrate the victory of the Paschal Lamb and join Him in this great feast of celebration. Why do we eat? Well, may our meals bear the mark of Christ’s triumph over sin and death that they may be occasions when we grow in our vigour to proclaim our faith in the Risen Lord and reveal our willingness to love our neighbour and serve those with whom we come in to contact. Amen.