I recently saw the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey, a multicultural mélange that celebrates the mystical power of food and cooking. Like a fine meal, the movie was delightful and inspiring, and yet I was on the verge of tears throughout the movie. I couldn’t figure out at first why I was so verklempt.
And then I remembered: a key ingredient in the film is how the hot young chef, Hassan, was taught to cook by his mother in Mumbai. When she dies tragically in middle age, he inherits her box of spices and carries on the family’s traditional recipes. With a chef’s hunger to learn and to innovate, he also seeks out classical French cooking techniques.
We witness several elaborate meals in this movie, moments in which the characters experience ecstasy, connection, recognition, even a brief moment of nirvana when they taste something amazing. And yet the climax is the simplest meal. While far from home and his native cuisine, Hassan finds a restaurant worker eating home-cooked Indian food by himself. He offers Hassan some, and as Hassan eats with his fingers, he tears up and names the spices of his mother’s cooking. And the restaurant worker repeats a line that Hassan has said earlier: “Food is memories.”
That is why the movie made me tear up: because my mother taught me to cook, and some of my closest times with her were when she showed me how to separate and whisk eggs; to make a béchamel or pasta sauce; to roll gnocchi off a fork; to chop onions without crying. She died tragically in middle age, and I discovered that cooking — both the dishes she taught me to cook and the new recipes I discovered –connected me to the memory of my mother, my family and our life together around our kitchen and dinner table.
Food is past, present, and future. Its taste, smell and texture trigger powerful memories. It draws us to gathering places both simple and elaborate and feeds the now of our hungers. And its nourishment is stored in our muscles for the work ahead of us.
Food heals stress and grief and illness, fuels conversation and love and reconciliation, triggers inspiration and creativity. It creates opportunities for growth and understanding.
Is it any wonder that Jesus made a simple meal the central act of remembrance, worship and sustenance for his followers? Wine. Bread. He recognized that the dining table was the place where past, present and future are one. It was the place where the disciples learned, fought, and loved each other. It is where he taught them to be servants by washing their feet. And then he said something like these simple words. “Take, eat. This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And food is God. This Communion meal is God in a mystical way that defies explanation. We who serve Communion to you don’t need explanation: we see it in your eyes when you approach the table for our shared Eucharistic meal. It is past, present and future. It is healer, reconciler, vivifier. It draws us together and connects us across generations, cultures, and divisions. It is joy, passion, and peace.
That is what I mean when I say food is God. And that is why, a year ago, our church decided to have congregational dinners in people’s homes. These dinner groups are a way for people to connect with others on a deeper, more personal level than is sometimes possible in a filled sanctuary or a packed Rector’s Forum. They are also a way to feel connected to the mission and movement of All Saints Church.
There is a place at the table for you and your loved ones at All Saints. You are always welcome at our Communion table on Sundays and at our weekday Eucharists. And there’s also a place at the table for you in our dinner groups. We encourage you to sign up for congregational dinners — on the lawn on Sunday or on the website — and to sit down to eat and talk with others. It’s a chance to be known in the breaking of the bread — a chance to find God and community in the sharing of our food and our lives.