Yes, this is the cheesiest title I’ve used in this blog but I couldn’t resist it. Besides, it’s only only post I’ve written inspired by a cookery programme (The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best in case you’re wondering).
Okay, so what do cooking and eating have to do with the Bible? Quite a lot, as it happens. In fact, eating is intimately linked to the religious practice of Israel. Look at the sacrificial system – sure, it’s all about religious ritual, but it’s broader than our stereotypes of that.
See, some – most – of the sacrifices offered by Israel could be eaten, either by the priests or the public. Yes, the primary recipient was God, but the offering was shared. There was a connection between worship and food – we remember that today with the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
But that’s an act of remembrance, a symbolic sacrament. Eating the sacrifices had a physical practicality as well – it was a way of ensuring people got a decent meal, and so the importance of faith and spirituality was also tied up with meeting day-to-day needs.
This was all about humanity’s relationship with God, of course, and look at how that’s expressed – sacrifice and worship and repentance, yes, but in many cases, also sharing a meal with God. This makes sense – sharing a meal with someone is an act of fellowship and community. That’s why Jesus kept getting in trouble for sharing meals with the ‘wrong’ sort of people – it wasn’t just about eating, it was about grace.
This was one of the big issues for the early church – who was in, who was out? Was this a Jewish movement, or could Gentiles be allowed in? And, interestingly, one of the key moments for this, is all linked to food. Peter’s faced with a choice whether or not to meet with Gentiles and tell them about Jesus; his answer for this is in a vision where God commands him to eat non-Kosher food. As a good Jew, Peter is repulsed by this, but the message is clear – “Do not call anything impure what God has made clean.”
In other words, the barriers are coming down. And yes, the vision is a metaphor for accepting Gentiles into the church, but look at what Peter does immediately afterwards – he invites a Roman centurion into his house, where we can assume they had something to eat.
Food and fellowship, all intimately linked.
So what can the church do with this? Well, maybe we need to make more of food in our ministries. I guess this is something that’s happening a lot – after all, the Alpha Course is based around the idea of having a meal with people – but that’s the great thing about food and cooking: (almost) anyone can do it and the possibilities are endless. What about using food to cement the bonds between the different cultures that meet in our churches? Are there ways to share recipes within our fellowships? What are the innovative ways of using food in cafe church and soup kitchens and among people who can’t or don’t eat properly? Can food and cooking get people more involved in the fellowship, people who might not be able to preach or play guitar?
I know this isn’t original thinking, but recently I’m being taught that things we often don’t think twice about, like sleeping and gardening and cooking can be ways of expressing God’s love for others, can be worship. And the more opportunities for that the better.