Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 3, 2014‘And all ate and were filled.’ Satiety. What a great feeling having a meal and feeling full. Fulfilled. Think about some wonderful meals you have had and the memories surrounding them… Memorable meals. Savor those memories for a bit. We will come back to this.
When I think about special and memorable meals a couple come immediately to mind. First would be the retirement luncheon that Ray Clouse and I gave for Bishop Rockwell. My bishop, who launched me on my journey toward priesthood and who has remained a good friend since, was just about to leave St. Louis. We hosted a group of eight for a Saturday luncheon. Ray prepared a gorgeous and sumptuous feast. I don’t remember exactly the menu but I do remember lunch on the porch at Riverwoods overlooking the Missouri River with a beautiful table — lovely tablecloth and napkins, crystal, china, fine wines, and a very special bottle of dessert wine. A lovely prayer of thanksgiving and a long leisurely outdoor meal with spectacular weather, gorgeous vistas, lovely conversation and great conviviality. When I think of that day and the joy we all experienced it warms my heart and I smile. And it was all prepared and offered in a spirit of loving and giving, and saying thanks.
And when I think of other meals, the ones that come to mind, actually a series of them, are Sunday dinners at Grandma Kilgore’s house. A very different kind of meal from the one I just described. Grandma and Grandpa Kilgore were lovely, sweet, salt of the earth people. Their parents immigrated from Ireland and Scotland during the potato famine of the early 1800’s. They grew up in lead mining villages in southwest Missouri and had very little in the way of material possessions. But loving and warm and caring they were. And Grandma Kilgore fixed the best Sunday dinners. My brother and I and our three cousins had countless Sunday dinners around Grandma and Grandpa Kilgore’s fairly spartan appearing dinner table. And occasionally when ‘all the family’ were together they would set up a second table, a card table in another room. As there were only four seats at ‘the kid’s table’ and there were five grandkids, I, as the oldest grandchild, got to eat at the ‘adults’ table’.
But what I remember about those meals was the food. Grandma Kilgore’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes were absolutely the best! She kept a coffee can on the back of the stove with bacon fat in it. I don’t know what she did to make it so tasty but I can still see that chicken popping and crackling on the stove in that large skillet full of grease. And mashed potatoes! She boiled five pounds of potatoes and had one of those S-shaped wire devices that she hand mashed the potatoes with. No electric mixer. Lots of work. Oh, but they were good. Lots of butter and salt. She never used enough salt and the first thing said at the table after the prayer was always ‘pass the salt’. And the family legend is that my first words at her dinner table as a toddler were, ‘Pass the salt…’ as I had heard my dad and uncle say that at the beginning of every meal. But once you got the salt on, what a feast. And Grandpa was a gardener. The strawberries out of his garden with freshly hand whipped cream, again, no electric mixer, were scrumptious.
Two meals, very different but both replete with wonderful memories. Memorable meals. Meals that fed the body, and the mind, and the heart, and the soul. Meals that nourished. Different as those memories are, there are some common threads. Food lovingly prepared to love, honor, and cherish those we care for; wonderful table fellowship and conversation; people lovingly gathered together; and prayer to start it off.
Yes, prayer to start it off. Times have changed and the statistics of families that regularly have meals together are dramatically different from what I grew up with. In my family of four on a daily basis we always sat down to dinner at the table, seated my mother before the men sat, put our napkins in our laps and ‘said grace.’ We always said a prayer before the meal.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus gave a meal. It was quite a repast and didn’t even require any prep - no picking strawberries, no mashing potatoes, no setting the table, washing crystal or china. But a very successful meal. ‘And all ate and were filled…’ the gospel says. And there were twelve baskets left over. This really was quite an event and made an impression on the people. It was one of those memorable meals. People obviously told the story over and over for seventy years and then when the gospel got written, the story was written down. This is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four gospels. It obviously made quite an impression on the disciples. And on the people. When asked to recount memorable meals, those there that day would certainly have thought of that story.
Jesus was big on meals. So many of the stories about Jesus revolve around meals: the dinner at the wedding in Cana, in the house of Mary and Martha, the healing of Jairus’ daughter (give her something to eat, he said after she was revived), parables about meals, his appearance on the road to Emmaus, of course the Last Supper, and others.
There was something special about the way Jesus did meals, about the way he brought people together, about the fellowship. And there was genius behind his use of meals. The feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fish isn’t so much about the miracle of expanding the atoms and molecules of the fishes and loaves many-fold, but rather it is about the linking together of the spiritual, the holy, the mystical, with our physical needs. Body and soul. And making it memorable. Jesus knew the importance of giving sustenance to our bodies. He knew we need to eat. He also knew the importance of sustenance for our souls. Doesn’t the Lord’s Prayer, which he taught us, say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ just before it says something about ‘forgive us…and lead us not into temptation’? So he tied the two together. Sustenance of our bodies and souls, linked. We have to eat several times a day. How novel to link our eating with a prompt to remind us to think of God, and to give thanks. Beginning a meal with a prayer. Always.
In seminary we priests are taught that there is a threefold action in that great meal, the Holy Eucharist. The bread is taken, blessed, then broken. Jesus did the same. In Israel in his time food was a holy thing and it was required for the head of the household to say a prayer over the food every time one ate. And they would put their arms up in what we call the orans posture. Jesus prayed that way. It was a pious custom that Jesus would have been well acquainted with and followed. Rabbis in those days maintained that a meal without prayer was a meal accursed.
Special meals. Memorable meals. I wonder how many of us, when I suggested we recall some special meals at the beginning of this sermon, thought about a eucharistic meal? Perhaps we should remember some special times of Holy Communion. Do you remember the first time you took communion? Do you remember the last time you took communion? Do you remember some really special times you have taken communion? Perhaps in the hospital, or at a funeral or wedding. Special meals. Memorable meals. Every meal with Jesus is a special and memorable meal.
In talking about communion Thomas Aquinas says the Eucharist is called communion because ‘through it we communicate with Christ…and through it we communicate and are united with one another.’ That’s what Jesus did then with the loaves and fishes, and that’s what Jesus still does today every time we are around this table. It is him and us [point up and down]…and us and us… [point side to side]. It is vertical and horizontal. You don’t come to Holy Communion for that tiny sip of wine or that small morsel of bread; they wouldn’t sustain your physical body very long. You come because there is something more, something holy, something mystical, something special. Something memorable. This is the memorable meal we are to recall.
‘All ate and were filled.’ Yes they were. And yes they are.