You’ve heard the old adage, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I can attest that this is true not only for men, but for women too. That’s the way I won my wife’s heart; I finally convinced her to come over for dinner. I knew it wasn’t going to be my personality and certainly not my looks that would do it (though she apparently disagrees). So I bet on my culinary skills and cooked up a fine Italian meal–it worked!
There’s something about food that brings people together—sharing a meal by a table or a warm drink by a fire forges a unique moment of intimacy. Something happens to our brains that help us put our guard down and open ourselves up to the person in view.
Eating is a human affair, universally shared across diverse languages, customs and cultures. To eat is an essentially human thing: in fact, it was the second thing that God commanded Adam to do in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus ate with people often. It was his primary method when connecting with people—sinners and saints. He often ate with his disciples, and used food and farming illustrations in his teaching. He even ate with his disciples in his post-resurrection body. Jesus never questioned the very human act of eating—apparently something we’ll be doing together with him in heaven. Eating isn’t just for survival’s sake, but for enjoyment’s sakes— and for community’s sake!
One Bible event related to eating stands above the rest; we know it as The Last Supper. It was here where Jesus told his disciples to continue to gather together to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him. The church at large has done so ever since. The early Christians participated in communion as often as possible because of how it strengthened their faith. It was not some duty to be filled but a gift to be cherished for the building up of the church.
There’s something I’ve learned from this. In the bustle and distraction of our modern lives, we sometimes feel far from God—I know I do. And sometimes on Sundays when I’m gathering with other Christians, I still don’t necessarily feel God. Maybe you can relate.
This feeling that God is far is the experience of many saintly people in the Bible; it’s an oft-expressed sentiment in the Psalms. So it’s no surprise to God: we’re not very good at sensing his deep love and presence with us, despite knowing that we have his Spirit. We need help with that. And so, Jesus has given us a physical reminder to help us with that very problem.
In breaking bread and sharing wine with his disciples, it’s as though Jesus was saying, “There’s going to be times that you’re not going to feel my presence or my love, and you’ll forget that I am always with you and will never leave you, so I’ll give you a physical reminder.” Bread and wine are physical things that you can feel, taste, smell and see—they act as a reminder of who God is to you. You may not feel God’s presence emotionally, but in communion, you’re given the opportunity to feel his presence physically.
The gift of Holy Communion helps us remember Jesus and his promise to be close to us. My ability to “remember” isn’t the access key that allows me to properly take Communion, but Communion is the physical act that inspires true remembrance. Broken bread and poured out wine work on my affections through my senses. Jesus gives the church a physical, sensory, experience that we can touch, smell, see, and taste with our bodies, the bodies that God created and declared to be “good.”
In communion, we can be reminded in a very human way that because of what Jesus did on the cross, God is as close to us as the bread and the wine in clear view. God is present to you, closer to you than the air you breathe, closer to you than the very heart in your chest. God is present, and at work, even when it doesn’t feel like it. He has come, he is here, and he will come again.
Communion is a gift because even when we feel zero emotion for God, He gives us the opportunity to taste, smell, and see that God is still in our lives. And it’s this very tangible experience of God’s presence that works to reconfigure us.
Jesus knew all along: the stomach is the way to the heart.
photo by Tim Samoff