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The Spiritual Significance of Eating: A Way to Commune With God
There are many parallels between eating and communing with God as well as connections between the spirituality of eating and the sharing of meals with others.
The first episode of eating starts in the very beginning of the Bible when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then there are the feeding stories in the gospels and the Bible ends with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
Eating is a central focus of all occasions, celebrations of all kinds, feast days and festivals, meals and tables, parties and banquets. The eating motifs are seen with the rich and poor, servants and kings, slaves and masters, priests and prophets.
Eating satisfies human needs
Eating has been an activity that satisfies many levels of human needs. When we eat together, we share not only our meal but also our presence. We learn from others as we share our stories and feelings around the table. And of course, eating is sustenance that provides nourishment. Eating is at the top of the basic needs list because when hunger is satisfied, then the other basic needs can be satisfied. In most cases, other needs can be satisfied only after the need for food has been met. After Jesus healed Jairus' daughter, He told them to "give her something to eat." (Mark 5:43)
Food as a gift of grace
When we say the "grace" before a meal, we are actually thanking God for the gift of life as well as for the food we are about to eat. When we say that short prayer before eating, we are making a connection between the miracle of God's creation and the daily reality of food.
When we thank God for our food, we are also thanking Him for a host of other things we don't mention. Indirectly, we thank God for the rain and sun, the fields, seeds, farmers, delivery drivers, grocers, cooks and everyone and everything associated with the food being placed on the table at that particular moment.
Food is a mystery of life
We need to eat in order to live. Every time we eat, we participate in the mystery of life. What we eat must be resurrected and becomes a part of us. That leaf of lettuce that was pulled from the ground, or that apple picked from its tree is on its way to death. We give it life through our bodies. The food is transformed into living tissues.
Food is the center of celebrations
Jesus often used food as the center of celebrations. He attended a feast to celebrate Matthew's response to follow Him as a disciple. Jesus ate with Zacchaeus when he came down from the sycamore tree. Jesus celebrated at a wedding reception where He performed His first miracle. Jesus went to a dinner party at the home of Mary and Martha.
When the prodigal son returned home his father prepared the fatted calf to celebrate.
Elisha was plowing with ten oxen when he was anointed to become a prophet. He killed his oxen and burned his plows to cook them to celebrate with those he was leaving behind in the field.
If food is absent from any celebration, even in the midst of great joy, there seems to be a big portion of something missing from the occasion.
Food meets spiritual needs
Food sustains life. Food meets physical needs. Food meets spiritual needs. We eat for comfort and for enjoyment. We eat to celebrate and to bring pleasure to our lives. Food brings relief when one is depressed. It is biblical to eat to comfort one's self. Psalm 104 tells of the strengthening power of bread. That why we call bread "the staff of life." When we are bored or nervous or in love, we crave sweets.
A favorite food has many times brought cheer to someone who was upset or feeling down in the dumps. Also, food is taken to a bereaved family not just to free the family from cooking during that period, but also to bring comfort. This act is a gesture of love and support at the time of sorrow for the family. The food itself relieves tension and even sadness.
Psalm 23 offers an example of how food can be a comforter. "He prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
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Food is an expression of hope and restoration
Food is a catalyst in healing and restoration. Power seems to be present in a hearty stew on a winter day or a cup of warm milk and cookies for one who is depressed or slightly ill. Food has the power to give new energy, enhance mental capacity and give hope to help those in a rut to get on with life. Food is just as good for the soul as it is for the body.
Food is sacramental
Thinking of food as a sacrament helps to remind us of our personal ongoing relationship with God. A sacrament is any act in which the actions and materials used are the channels by which God's grace is communicated, either actually or symbolically. Food is a daily sacrament because it is part of God's covenantal promise to us. Even though Adam's method of obtaining food changed, God still provided for him. "By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat bread." (Genesis 3:19)
The basic affirmation about food is that God is the giver of our daily bread. That's why we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." (Matthew 6:11)
Food is an eschatological theme
Eschatology is a theological term associated with end time events especially in reference to the Second Coming of Jesus. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is the culminating of eating in the Bible. The elements of hospitality, bonding, compassion, and love are symbols of hope here on earth. All of these things will be combined into one act of celebration when we celebrate with Jesus at the banquet of all banquets.
God invites all to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come, let the one who desires take the water of lite without price." (Revelation 22:17)
(From The Spiritual Significance of Eating, Minnicks, pp.5-11)