I love food. I love making things from scratch and experimenting with new recipes. I love how something which nourishes my body can nourish my soul and spirit too, so it should come as no surprise that I love using food in our faith at home rituals.
Food is central to so many of our rituals. The smells and tastes add another dimension to the experience and become part of our memories. I’m sure this is why so many Biblical rituals involve food.
In the Bible, there are many celebrations which God commanded His people to observe, each of which comes with its own food – this is why they are known as feasts! Some of the food used in the feasts is specified in the Bible such as the flatbread and bitter herbs for Passover, also known as the Feast of Flat Bread. However, much of the food used today in Biblical feasts have been added later as traditions built up over the centuries. Many writers have summarised Jewish feasts with these words:
“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”
Sometimes our rituals involve food we don’t eat at other times of the year, like Easter eggs, but often it’s a specific use of commonly eaten food. For example, for Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year, we dip apples in honey to represent a sweet new year, and at Passover, we dip bitter herbs (often parsley) in salt water to represent the tears of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. By doing this we give ordinary things a special spiritual meaning, and so each time we eat them during the year, the smell and taste gently reminds us of that meaning.
Of course, as Christians our central ritual is communion. Growing up in a Baptist church with cubes of bread and tiny, shot glasses of wine, I didn’t think of communion as a feast, but, of course, this is THE feast! This food-based ritual was set up by Jesus himself over a meal with His friends, when he broke bread and drank wine and said, “Remember me whenever you do this.”
I’ve often wondered what He meant by this. Did He mean whenever you celebrate Passover, which was the annual feast meal He was celebrating with His friends. Or did He mean whenever you eat bread and drink wine? Was this meant to be a special, separate ritual done when we gather as His followers or was He meaning whenever you eat bread and drink wine in your homes, with your family and friends? This is the interpretation some parts of the church take, which means that they remember Jesus every time they eat and drink together. If you think of communion like this, celebrating it as part of a meal, it definitely becomes more of a feast! However you interpret it, it’s certain that Jesus was following in Jewish tradition when He applied a new symbolic and ritual meaning to the basics of the meal they were sharing, creating a replicable, spiritual moment.
Food symbols help connect us to the meaning
We all have special food we bring out especially for celebrations, for Christmas and birthdays and Easter. And while just making or buying and eating the food is a ritual on its own, for me I want to be a little more intentional. I want to have food which marks the day but also symbolic food which reminds me and connects me to the meaning of the festival. A few years ago, my 4-year-old was trying out herbs in the garden, and when she got to parsley, she said “This is the Passover one.” I was delighted as it wasn’t anywhere near Passover, but for her, this herb which we dip in salt water had become connected with that festival, which gave us a chance to reflect again on the meaning it has during that meal, but which is relevant at any time of year.
Food makes it easy to share our festivals in a fun and spiritual way
We’ve invented some feasts in our house, such as Baptism Birthdays. Sometimes I make a cake, but usually, I make meringues, mainly because I did this once when my girls were small so that they had a ‘cake’ to share with their nursery friends, which also acted as an excuse to share a little of the story which went with that celebration. And as you know, if you do something once with young children, it can immediately become a tradition! Ritual food can also do this – it gives us a way to share our celebrations with people who might not otherwise celebrate them. For the last two years, we had a playdate on Rosh Hashana with another family, so we shared our ritual of dipping apples in honey, sang our fun Rosh Hashana song and asked God to bless them with sweetness in the coming year. It’s surprisingly easy to share faith when it’s infused with food!
Food makes it easy to listen to stories together
Most mornings I read the Bible with my children. I do this with a bowl of porridge or hot cakes (like scotch pancakes only yummier – see below for a recipe) and hot chocolate. The porridge and hot cakes are topped with chocolate sprinkles or mini marshmellows, making them decadent and delicious. The smells (and a little calling!) bring them to the table, and the hot food and drinks keep them there while I read the Bible. It’s something which never seems to fail. It can also be done in the afternoon with a chocolate milkshake and a plate of fruit and warm biscuits (I make a batch of dough and keep it in the fridge or freezer so it only takes a few minutes to pop them in the oven.) This is the model of Passover – eating a long meal while telling a long story – and it works almost every time. If you’ve not tried it, have a go. Make something your family with like, set it out on the table and grab your Bible or storybook. Give them a call and see the magic!
Food is a gift
Whether it’s collecting Easter eggs in a hunt or sneaking an early mince pie in November, food is inextricably linked with our celebrations. Sometimes at church, with dry biscuits and bad coffee, we have forgotten the gift food is, what is does for us as human beings, and the role it plays in our faith rituals. When we meet in each other’s home, either for a church group meeting or a simple play date, sharing food is much easier and adds so much more to our connection. Have you ever counted the times Jesus ate food with people? Just by eating with them, Jesus was preaching without words – a Rabbi who eats with tax collectors was a radical concept, and spoke volumes about the grace of God. Let’s not miss out on this easy opportunity to feed our bodies and our souls.
You can find some food faith at home ideas here