One of the most beautiful rituals is the sharing of a meal. It’s very human to share a meal with others; it’s very intimate. With families, the dinner table is where loved ones gather at the end of the day to reconnect, after having gone to work, or school, or some other responsibility.
Over dinner, loved ones can relax, recharge, laugh, and share stories, all the while renewing their sense of who they are as a family. It’s a place of reconciliation. No matter how feelings may have been hurt earlier in the day, conflict must usually be resolved before loved ones can share a meal again.
Culture can also be communicated over a meal: the agriculture a society prizes, the available technology, the values of the day, social hierarchy, and other cultural aspects. We expand our world, one taste at a time, whenever we experience different meals. From a meal’s ingredients, its methods of preparation, the way it ought to be eaten—a meal tells the story of another time or place.
The story of our salvation is no exception to this. The culture of our faith values the importance of the meal. We remember the bread and wine offered by the High Priest Melchizedek at the time of Abraham. We call to mind the Paschal sacrifice at the time of Moses.
In the New Testament, the gospel of Luke in particular emphasizes the meal. On at least eight occasions, we find Jesus at meal with others: at Levi’s house, Jesus sat with tax collectors and sinners. At the house of Simon the Pharisee, the sinful woman wept at Christ’s feet. Jesus fed the 5,000 through the multiplication of loaves and fish. He ate at the home of Mary and Martha. He stayed at the home of Zacchaeus for a day. He instituted the new Covenant at a meal. He broke bread with two disciples at Emmaus. And the parable which perhaps is the most famous also involves a meal: when the prodigal son is finally reconciled with his father, the fattened calf is slaughtered, and the feast is celebrated.
In our gospel today, we hear about the very last meal that Jesus ate in the gospel according to Luke. After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appears to his disciples who are in hiding, and asks them a very peculiar question: “Have you anything here to eat?”
It’s an ironic situation. Surely, Jesus no longer requires physical food to eat. After all, even before his resurrection, he was known to have said: Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman, he had said to his disciples: “I have food of which you do not know”. And he wasn’t speaking about physical food. On the Cross, he said: “I thirst,” but not necessarily in reference to any physical drink.
And so, when Jesus asks his disciples for something to eat, he could be asking for something other than physical food. Maybe he’s hungering for their faith. Instead, they give him a piece of baked fish. Nevertheless, our Lord plays along, and eats it in front of them.
It certainly wasn’t himself that Jesus ate that fish. He did it for his disciples. You see, the last meal they shared together prior to Christ's death was on the night our Lord was arrested. During that meal, they ate the Paschal Lamb to consummate the Old Covenant. Later that meal, Jesus gave them his own flesh and blood to eat drink, to consummate the New Covenant.
But later that very night, they all betrayed him; down to the last man. Not one of those apostles remained faithful. Their last act before the death of their Lord was an act of betrayal. The events that followed happened so fast: our Lord was condemned to death, tortured, killed, and buried, all within the next twenty-four hours.
Surely that betrayal ate at the hearts of the apostles. It must have fueled their fear at seeing Jesus again. They thought that they were seeing a ghost; a tormented spirit who had returned for vengeance.
But no. That’s not why Jesus comes to them. “Peace be with you,” he says to them instead. “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
Those wounds reveal him; they are the marks of his Passion. But where the sight of them once elicited terror; after the resurrection, they invoke joy and amazement. Through those wounds, the disciples recognize that the One who died on the Cross is the very same Person who now stands in their midst. Those wounds reassure them of the continuity of his identity before and after the resurrection. But they are no longer signs of shame. They gloriously reveal the One who now lives. Those wounds do not lie. Jesus stands before them.
The last time, Jesus had given them a meal, which was met with betrayal. And so now, he asks them for a meal, to give them a chance at repentance. And like any family over a meal, I imagine that they that evening were able to reconnect, relax, recharge, laugh, and share stories, all the while renewing their sense of who they were as a family of faith. Above all, they were reconciled to Christ, and to one another, in that meal.
As the family of God that we are now, we gather around this table; our family meal is this Eucharist [gesturing to the altar]. We come here to reconnect after having gone our separate ways for the week; we come here to be refreshed by the grace of God; we come to share stories [gesturing to the Book of the Gospels]. But ultimately, we come here to be reconciled to God in Christ. It’s here that we experience Jesus’ same message to his disciples: Peace be with you. Touch me and see. Behold my flesh and blood.
So let us come then, and let us enjoy this meal our Lord has given us. And may his peace always rest in our hearts.