Pentecost 12B, 2012
John  6: 51-58

A Liturgy is also available


“Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history
- so far back that personal survival was the only concern -
a defining event must have taken place.
Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it,
but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others.
There must have been a first time.
A first act of community - call it communion -
in the most elemental form”
(Fulghum 1995:79).

I really enjoy Robert Fulghum’s writings.
And one of his books, From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives
        from which I have just quoted,
        is certainly a rewarding and imaginative read.

And it is from this book, along with some comments
from Brazilian Rubem Alves, that I want to share some parallel thoughts
        to this morning’s shockingly graphic gospel story.

But first let me tell you another story.
It’s a story from Fulghum’s book.


When my first son was in kindergarten, I was a parent volunteer
who visited the school once a week to teach folk songs to the children.
Singing came between rest-time and snack-time.

Regularly I was invited to stay after singing
and join the class for milk and scones.
I gladly stayed.
Not because I was particularly hungry, but because 
I enjoyed watching the children carry out this ordinary task
with such extraordinary care.

Two children set the table with serviettes and cups.
Two others arranged the chairs.
Others went to the refrigerator for cartons of milk,
while two more fetched the scones from the kitchen
and arranged them neatly on plates.

One child was responsible for placing something in the middle of the table
to talk about during the snack - a sort of ‘show and tell’.

For half the class, their job for the day was being good ‘guests’.
The other half were the ‘hosts’.
Each ‘host’ took a scone off the plate, broke it in half,
and gave it to a ‘guest’ before eating the other half.

During this snack-time, they discussed 
the ‘show and tell’ object in the centre of the table.

After the scones and milk were consumed,
the children who had played ‘guests’ for the day
cleaned up and put away everything,
before they went out to play.

It was a high-point of my week.  For me, it was communion.

Fulghum then goes on to add some comments...
The sacraments are often defined by the church as
‘outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace’.

Scones and milk with those children became a sacrament for me.
Grace was clearly present.
It was a ritual reminder that civilisation depends on sharing resources
in a just and humane fashion.


Jesus often talked about, or is represented as talking about, food.
And as he moved from place to place, the various storytellers
declared he would seek rest in a house.

Rumour has it once there he would make his way to the cooking space
because there he knew he could find food
to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose.

For it is the cooking space - the kitchen - 
which is the place of transformations, suggests Rubem Alves.
“Nothing is allowed to remain the same.  Things come in raw, as nature produced them.  And they go out different, according to the demands of pleasure.”
(Alves 1990:79).

The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear.
“The hard must be softened.  Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out: cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures...  Everything is a new creature.  Everything is made anew.”
(Alves 1990:79).


Jesus often talked about food.
Slow food rather than fast food, that is.

And the gospel storytellers often put words in the mouth of Jesus 
to have him speak about food and eating.
Bread and wine.
Body and blood.

But Jesus was no literalist. 
And religious language is primarily metaphorical or poetic.

In other words, Jesus spoke so words would be eaten.
        When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood.
        When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds.
        When compassionate deeds are eaten, 
                  they become as the Holy One in our neighbour.

We are what we eat, suggests Rubem Alves.
“One eats and one’s body is resurrected.”
(Alves 1990:86).

Robert Fulghum suggests milk and scones 
at kinder snack-time is communion. Is grace enacted.

“Since the beginning of time,” Fulghum writes,
“people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship...
(Pg 81).

“Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together.” (Pg 81-82). 


Traditionally, this morning’s gospel story from John
has been given strong sacrament overtones.
        Holy Communion or Eucharist overtones, that is.
                  If that is indeed the case then it very much reflects
                  John’s community many years after the life of Jesus.

When things were getting organised
and rules - dos and don’ts - were being put in place.

But what ever the sacrament of Holy Communion is,
“it is an act that arises out of our humanity, not organized religion.” (Fulghum 1995: 82).

So may our common and shared humanity
be experienced again this day as we
celebrate community in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

And may our celebration be a ritual reminder that,
as we share the bread and share the wine,
        civilisation depends on sharing resources
        in a just and humane fashion.

Alves, R. A. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. The Edward Cadbury Lectures Philadelphia. Trinity Press International, 1990
Fulghum, R. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Oxford. Ivy Books, 1995.

And a personal PS:
Recently our daughter was invited to a friend’s place where each guest was to prepare their favourite dish (food) as the gift.  Our daughter decided her gift would be to share her feelings of food and cooking in this personal story to her friend…

Food and cooking has been a major influence in my life, from child until now.  My mother worked with food and preparation, so meals in my house were from all origins and always a feast.

As a child, my mother had us cooking in the kitchen, learning and creating – of course, back then we thought of it as a game, not knowing the importance until we were much older.

As a teenager growing up in Sydney, I learned very quickly that not everyone has the same ‘Apple Pie’ family.  Every friend who walked through our doorway was greeted with home cooked smells – some they had never smelt before – and learnt that home-made Lasagne was a great afternoon snack.

When I moved out of home at 20, my mother gave me her Woman’s Weekly recipe card box.  Back in the 70s she collected those tokens to get the complete set.  It was important to her back then so I knew how important it was to pass onto me.  It took me 10 years, but I cooked every dish on those cards (except the odd scary meatloaf).  It’s funny, cooking for myself every night made me feel so independent.

My feelings on cooking have changed again.  I now have a wonderful man to double my portions for.

My favourite pass time of all, is throwing dinner parties.  The food has to be exciting, for me too, and always different.  I plan for weeks and can’t wait to start the prep.  Then I get to share it all with my friends as I watch them having a good time, knowing my little dishes of love have put them all in the same room as me.

So to add to your collection is a Donna Hay magazine.  I’ve been collecting them for years.  She is my favourite cook, as she has similar traits that I recognise – food symbolising comfort and love, and bonds of family… friends… lovers.

My wish for you is that you experience how important you make others feel through your cooking… the first lesson I learned from my mum.