How to Prepare a Meal
Twenty or thirty years ago, if someone wanted to learn how to prepare a meal, they would probably ask a host for a recipe, get yiayia and theia to show them, or buy a recipe book. We can still do these today, although yiayia and theia might leave out a key ingredient to preserve the secret recipe. Yet, what?s different in contemporary society is that one can turn on the television and watch full cooking demonstrations for hours on end. And these are no longer little segments on a variety daytime show. In fact, today there is a whole cable channel, called the Food Network, to watch and learn. Now, think for a minute: in all the food recipes you?ve watched, whether on tv or in person, has the teacher ever talked about the role of prayer in food preparation? Probably not, perhaps never!
In today?s Gospel reading from the 8th Sunday of Matthew (14:14-22) we hear the famous miracle of Jesus multiplying the five loaves and two fish in order to feed more than 5,000 men, women and children. And besides demonstrating Jesus Messianic power to change the natural order, He also shows us how to prepare the food with prayer. The passage goes: 18He said, ?Bring them here to Me.? 19Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. 20So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. There are four components to Jesus prayerful preparation: 1) looking up to heaven, 2) blessing, 3) breaking, and 4) giving/distributing. In fact, these are almost the exact same components that Jesus does at the Last/Mystical Supper when He institutes the Sacrament/Mystery of the Eucharist (Mt.26:26-27; Mk.14:22-26; Lk.22:15-20) except that He also ?gave thanks.? We know that mealtime is a universal experience, a social institution of not only sharing food but also sharing fellowship. So let?s take a closer look at Jesus? model for food preparation. I?m going to combine ?breaking? and ?giving? and add ?giving thanks.?
First, ?looking up to heaven,? is a perfectly appropriate expression because all things are from our God and Father who resides in the heavens. Looking back to Genesis 1, we hear that,
27So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ?Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.? 29And God said, ?See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food?; and it was so. 31Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Not only is food, our natural sustenance, given by God, but our own life is a gift from God.
Second, when Jesus ?blesses? the loaves and fish in today?s gospel or the bread and wine at the mystical supper, we can safely assume that He does it by the spoken word and through a gesture just like we Orthodox Christians do it today. We typically say the Lord?s prayer and then invoke a blessing from God making the sign of the cross over the food. The dictionary defines the verb ?bless? as to consecrate as sacred. We say at the beginning of many worship services, ?Blessed is our God?Eulogetos o Theos imon?? When we pray over food, we say, ?Eulogeson.? So, in other words, we want the food to be holy as God is holy. Thus, by partaking of the holy food, we are asking that we too may become holy like God. The word, ?eulogetos? literally means ?good word? or ?to say something good.? Now, prayer, strictly defined, is the action of God?s Holy Spirit within us. And these sacred, God-oriented words we speak become our supernatural food. For Jesus also says, quoting Dt.8:3, that ?man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? (Mt.4:4).
Third, when Jesus ?breaks? the bread and ?gives? it to His disciples, He demonstrates the fundamental divine principle of sharing and generosity. We never should approach a meal with the idea of hoarding food for gluttony is one of the carnal passions that we must guard against. That?s why fasting is such a huge part of our Orthodox Christian tradition. Some say that was a fundamental part of Adam and Eve?s original sin. That is, they refused to follow God?s commandment to fast from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this past Friday?s epistle reading, St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians for their inappropriate behavior at the agape/eucharist meal. Listen to what he says:
17Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord?s Supper. 21For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. And St. Paul continues,
33Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come. (1Cor. 11:17-22;33-34)
Distributing and sharing also involves hospitality and ministry to the poor. We spoke about this a great length in last week?s sermon so I will not repeat it here other than to remind us that we may be hosting angels unaware like see Abraham in Gen. 18:1-15. We should consider carefully who to invite according to Jesus? Parable about the Great Banquet in Luke 14:12-14. And we should imitate Mary, Martha & Lazarus who hosted Jesus (John 12:2) as we heed Jesus? words in the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matt.25:31-46) because He identifies with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, estranged, sick and in prison.
Fourthly, Jesus gives ?thanks.? He is the Messiah, our Lord and Savior, but He also is still God the Father?s Son. We are also God?s children. If Jesus gives thanks, who are we to neglect such an important expression. We tell our children to write a thank you for a gift received. Are we writing a thank you to God with the words from our mouth when we partake of food that ultimately comes from Him? Another perspective on the Original Sin of Adam and Eve is that they refused to give thanks for what God had given them and instead wanted what He commanded them not to eat.
Finally, be sure to use the mealtime prayers found in several Orthodox prayerbooks. They will remind you to pray and teach you how to pray. Let us depart today hearing gain from St. Paul, 4For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1Timothy 4:5) ?Whether, therefore you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do all for the glory of God.? (1Cor.11:34). 17And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)
Text of mealtime prayers (see prayerbook).
Christ our God, bless the food and drink of Your servants, for You are holy always, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
The hungry shall eat and be satisfied. Those who seek the Lord shall praise Him; their hearts shall live forever. Bless us Lord and these Your gifts which we are about to receive. For You are blessed and glorified forever. Amen.
Do we say a prayer after meals?
We thank You, O Christ our God, that You have satisfied us with Your earthly blessings. Deprive us not of Your heavenly kingdom. As You came among Your disciples after the resurrection, O Savior, and gave them peace, come also among us, grant us peace and save us. Amen.
Glory to You, Lord and King! You have gladdened our hearts through Your earthly gifts. Fill us also with the gift of Your Holy Spirit, that we may abound in every good work to the glory of Your name. Amen.
We thank You, Lord, Giver of all good things, for these Your gifts and all Your mercies, and we bless Your holy name forever. Amen.
Thanksgiving after Dinner
Lord, You have gladdened our hearts in Your creation, and we have rejoiced in the work of Your hands. The light of Your countenance has shined upon us, Lord. You have gladdened our hearts. We have been satisfied with the good things of the earth. We shall sleep in peace and repose in You, for You alone, Lord, have sustained our hope.
Blessed is God, who has mercy upon us and nourishes us from his bountiful gifts by His grace and love always, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.