People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied . . . and it is all one.
There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger and not wars or love?
–MFK Fisher from The Gastronomical Me
For the majority of people, today is Thursday. It is the day before Friday, which starts the weekend, which happens to be the weekend when a lot of people will be getting together with families either at home or in restaurants to share Easter brunch or dinner.
It’s also Maundy Thursday, which, when I was a child I used to think was some strange hybrid day: MondayThursday.
In the Christian calendar, Maundy Thursday starts a period of time that is a kind of hybrid day. It’s called the Triduum and it encloses the three day period between Thursday and Saturday, seeing them as one continuous day that represents the period between the crucifixion and rising of Jesus.
But the central event that Maundy Thursday commemorates is a dinner that Jesus had with his friends. The Last Supper. And it was evidently at this storied supper that Jesus gave his followers a new commandment, recorded in the gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”
There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.
Somebody I didn’t know real well called me up right after her husband left her. She was a mess. She didn’t know what to do. She called me not because I was a pastor—because I wasn’t one at that time, but because she figured I’d been through it. And I had.
“What do I do?” she wailed.
I was flummoxed. None of the things that she, eventually, would do made sense to tell her: weep, get angry, become more independent. Those were not things that would comfort her; they were just things that would happen.
I was flummoxed. And before I knew it I heard myself saying “Buy two really thick lamb chops and some fresh rosemary. Buy snow peas and new potatoes a bottle of really good wine.”
This wasn’t what she was expecting to hear, I’m sure. But I couldn’t think of anything else that made any more sense than to ritualize the transition to her new, and for the time being, sad life, the way we ritualize almost everything in our lives: with a meal.
Some meals are happier than others. It’s hard to be happy at the receptions that follow funerals. It’s hard to imagine a death row inmate eating their specially-ordered last meal. And if this woman actually did go out and splurge on some lamb chops, I’ll be it wasn’t a real happy meal, either, sitting alone in candlelight in the kitchen where she and her husband used to share the cooking.
Some meals are more festive than others: Fourth of July picnics, birthday parties, Christmas Eve and Easter dinners, evening weddings. Some meals are intimate—romantic dinners, of course, but not only those. Spooning pudding into the mouth of a loved one gravely ill is profoundly intimate. So is watching while your newborn baby blindly roots for, and then finds, the sweetest, most vital milk.
Eating together is about far more than merely dining.
So it really comes as no surprise to discover that it was over a meal that Jesus would talk to his friends about love. About the need to love one another, across our differences.
We don’t manage that too well all the time. Partners fight. Families fight. People fight. And yet each time we come together with others to share a meal, it can be healing to remember the simplest and yet most complex of commands, the one that was to surpass all other directives and prohibitions. We are mandated to love one another.
Or, as the poet W.H. Auden put it succinctly in his anti-war poem, “September 1st, 1939” written on the Nazi invasion of Poland: “We must love one another or die.”