Happy Feast of All Saints! I know I’m technically a few days late, but I’ve posted before the Sunday celebration so I feel that it still counts.
Here at Duke, we rang in the feast day with a midnight, candlelit service in Duke chapel—hearing biographies of the saints and martyrs who formed and carried the Christian faith down to us today.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation, also celebrated in conjunction with All Saints. In reflecting on the five centuries since a desire for faithfulness to God resulted in myriad splits in the church, many Christians have been questioning if we might use the next 500 years to work on unity amidst great diversity of faith.
In the past few months, I’ve attended three gatherings of food and faith scholars and practitioners, and I know of at least three other similar gatherings that occurred in that time which I was unable to attend. Every time I gather together with others who share Christ’s love through gardens, farms, and tables—driven by a response to the Eucharistic feast—I grow increasingly convinced that God is using food to re-unify the church.
In September, I met with pastors, gardeners, and farmers from across North Carolina for a retreat through Life Around the Table. We worshipped together around the dinner table, sharing the Eucharist with freshly made bread and hand pressed grape juice. We discussed the many nuances of faithful eating—how do we dream of a food system that cares for the environment and all who participate in the growing, distributing, and cooking of food without moving into the territory of elitism? We discussed dynamics of power, of who gets access to good food and who feels out of place in such conversations. We contemplated how pastors could engage dialogue about food within their varying congregational contexts. We had cooking demonstrations from local chefs—learning about the use of spice in Indian cuisine and how to make hand-pressed tortillas.
Most memorable for me was the call to think about food and laughter. Like Sarah, who laughed at the impossible promise from God that she would become pregnant in her old age, we entertain the impossible dream that despite all the complicating factors God does use food to restore creation. We gather around the table and talk about food knowing that God desires a food system that cares for every human body as well as the body of the earth. God desires tables full of joy, God desires our Eucharist—our thanksgiving—to spread out into everything we do.
In October, I met with fifty food and faith leaders from across North America in the mountains of western North Carolina. Facilitated by Wake Forest Divinity School’s Food, Health, and Ecological Well-Being program, we gathered to learn about the various projects taking place in churches, in universities, on farms, and even in the woods, all focused on leveraging the resources of faith communities to care for food and ecology. We gathered to dream and to collaborate, to better understand how we can all be mutually supportive in our connected but varying types of work. It was a time for rest in the middle of a busy semester, and even a taste of the brisk fall weather I’m missing so much this year!
A few weeks later, I joined my friends Sam Chamelin and Derrick Weston at a rural ministry conference hosted by Sam’s church The Keep & Till. I spoke about the Gospel as a story of meals, but mostly I listened to others share their work and vision for agrarian ministry. As someone who has always lived in urban areas, I found it a valuable time to listen and learn about all that is going on in rural churches, to glean from the great wisdom of those who know the beauty and difficulty of agrarian living and the ways it informs the Christian faith.
I’ve said this dozens of times already, but I cannot repeat it enough. Every single time I meet with food and faith leaders, every single time I eat the blessed bread and wine with men and women from a variety of denominational backgrounds, I grow increasingly convinced that God is at work using our relationships with food to heal divisions in the church and in the world.
As we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, a time when we remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in care of God’s creation, revel in the beauty that we share a meal that binds us to one another throughout history and around the world. Remember that the communion we celebrate each week at the Lord’s Table is just a foretaste of the great communion that is to come.
As we envision the upcoming 500 years of Christ’s church, let us strive to break bread with our brothers and sisters despite our many disagreements. Let us laugh as we entertain the impossible promise of unity of the Body.
Let us believe with all our hearts, our minds, our bellies, and our strength, that God is at work restoring creation. And that we faithfully live out our love for God in the garden, behind the stove, and around the dining room table.
Feast and remember that we are all ordinary saints, made one in the eating of bread and wine.