Breaking Bread, Fish and Wine to Heal Our Soils, Seas, Skies and Communities

By, Brother Coyote (aka Gary Paul Nabhan)

Gary Nabhan, Brother Coyote
The so-called Last Supper was not the last we know that nourished Jesus and his motley crew of ne’er-do-well friends.

The other ones had fish swimming into them.

For two millennia, Christians have faithfully practiced the Ritual of the Open Table –one where everyone has a place at that table to have their hunger curbed, their thirst slaked and their dignity respected.

Whether we immediately recognize it or not, each time they/we share Holy Communion with friends, family & neighbors, we are engaged in a rite that is at the same time revolutionary & re-conciliatory.

It is not about exclusivity. This is not a supper club for the elite or the saved. It is not just about humankind, either. It is about bonding with the land, sea and atmosphere that remain necessary for our health and our nourishment, just as much as it is about the farmworker, food service worker, fisher, vintner and farmer who bring us our daily sustenance.

California Alamos and Skagit Valley 115Whenever I partake of this sacrament, I try imagine myself in solidarity with hundreds of millions of others who dared to break bread together & sup from the same cup in defiance of the forces which seek to divide us.

In that sense, the Eucharist was not originally meant as an esoteric, restricted practice performed by Christians to bond only with other Christians, but to join hands with all of humanity and to join paws, wings and fins with all species, no matter what other expressions of faith (or lack of them) may be among us.

Eu-charism=true + gratitude= thanksgiving.

Today, the practitioners of this rite might be ensconced deep within a basement hideaway in Aleppo, Syria wondering just whose bombs & missiles are rattling their neighborhood at that particular moment in history, while felling astonished that they remain alive.

They might be undocumented farmworkers who briskly walked in to worship in a rural church, knowing that the law enforcers from the Immigration & Naturalization Service will be waiting in their trucks just outside the church when they walk out the door of the sanctuary into the harsh light of this day.

They might look like a couple of gay sous chefs who can be suddenly dismissed from their jobs at a restaurant when its manager unilaterally decides without consulting anyone that their presence might not be good for business.

They might be a father & his estranged son meeting for the first time in years at the church service to celebrate the life & the death in flesh of the boy’s godmother.

Whenever we all California Alamos and Skagit Valley 321come together for rituals such as the transubstantiation of bread & wine into body & blood, each of us in own way, in our various stations all around the earth, are vibrant echoes of  words said long ago, ‘Do this to re-member the Earthly Family.

Nevertheless, we often fail to remember a “later supper” which Jesus shared with his friends on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It occurred sometime after his crucifixion. His friends had gone fishing that night, but like that first time they met Jesus, they hadn’t caught a thing.

As the twilight of the morning reached the weary fishermen, they spotted the silhouette of a figure on the beach as the rowed their boat into shore. That’s when the drama begins:

They hear a voice calling out to them,
But they cannot make out whose voice it is:
‘Hey fellah, you haven’t caught a fish you can share me, have you?”
“No luck, no catch,” the one closest to him replies.
He laughs & points, urging them on,
       “Well then, cast your net off the right side of the boat…
Yes, right there! & see if you’ll have any better luck.
    Reluctantly, they do what he suggests, & instantly
They feel so much weight in the net that they can hardly haul it up.
    It’s loaded with teeming abundance of fish!
The one among that Jesus loved the most shouts out to Petros,
       “For Pete’s sake, it’s the master! It’s the master!”
When Petros hears these words, & ties his cloak to his torso
       & jumps into the water, for he had been stripped down.
As he guided the burgeoning net in towards the shore,
    The rest of the crew came in the boat, rowing so as
To drag the net into the shallows without ripping it loose.
    When they arrived at the beach to secure the catch,
They notice a wood fire burning brightly there,
    Where someone is preparing
For the reheating of bread & the grilling of fish.
Jesus beckons to them, ‘Bring me some fish from your catch,’
    Which Petros does, hauling the net out of the boat
& while counting some 153 fish as he brings them onto the landing.
       Even though they were exceedingly heavy, the net did not tear.
Jesus turns to them, exclaiming, “Come, let me feed you!”

Despite their doubts & the uncertainties that lay before them, Jesus’s disciples sooner or later came around to the fact that there was still an abundance in the world that could be fully accessible to them. Like the first time Jesus had instructed Petros to direct his boat over to where fish clustered near a hidden set of springs, they were surprised by just how bounteous their home place could still be. So Jesus reminded them that they were cared for, not abandoned, as Matthew 6: 26-27 records:
“Look at the seabirds above your head
    They neither sow nor reap
        Nor store up goods in some granary
& yet day by day your Abba feeds them.
     Are you not as valued as they are, or more?
Can you add even an hour to your life
    By wallowing in worry & fretting with fear?”

It is through Jesus’s gracious preparation of bread & fish—not bread & wine– that Jesus’s disciples realize that they are capable of living & participating in the presence of unanticipated miracles, sudden windfalls of abunCalifornia Alamos and Skagit Valley 424dance & feasts of sustenance that can nourish not just their own bellies, but thousands of others in this whirling and wounded world that groan with hunger as well.

By spontaneously offering them bread & fish rather than just harking back to the “Last Supper” of bread & wine, Jesus offered them a dynamic sacrament, one that was not rigid & fixed like a rabbi’s rule in the temple.

And so the dynamic triad of bread, wine & fish can become for us another kind of Sacred Triad, one that brings together gritty earth & heavenly ferment & salty sea creatures into a sacrament that changes before our eyes. The bread rises with the yeast & grains from the earth, while the grapes ferment into something altogether heady & quenching, while the fish wriggles on well after the crucifixion & the death that seemed to momentarily stop the world in its tracks.

In Jesus, Marcus Borg presses his finger on the vein of blood that pulses through so many of Jesus’s parables & festive meals with both the low & high life of his era;

“Eating together—sometimes called ‘commensality’ or ‘table fellowship’ — had a special significance in the time of Jesus. Meals in the mission of Jesus were not simply…about sustenance, though they were that. To say the obvious, food is the material basis of life, & it is important to realize that meals—real food with real people—were central to Jesus’s mission….But more than sustenance was involved. Not less, but more.”

“There were two reasons why eating together had symbolic significance. First, in the ancient Mediterranean world in general & the Jewish homeland, sharing a meal was a form of inclusion, & refusing to share a meal was a form of social exclusion…”

“Meals had a second significance within the Jewish homeland:…meal practice had become a symbol of what God wanted Israel to be…Pharisaic meal practice was restricted to those who kept the same laws of purity [an exclusion] that applied to priests while officiating in the temple…This realization is essential for understanding the strong criticism that Jesus’s meal practice [of eating with tax collectors & sinners, peasants & gluttons & drunkards] drew.

Jesus was disparaged, persecuted & ultimately killed for breaking the rules of exclusion & purity that separated Pharisee & Scribe from peasant farmer, fisher, farmworker & slave.

And that’s why, not long after his reappearance among his fishing & farming friends, he invited all of them to share in the wild abundance of constant Creation & re-Creation once more.

More bread, wine & fish just kept appearing on the table. May the diversity of people (and species?) sharing them at the table continues to grow with the astonishing fecundity of little mustard seeds.

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Published in: on April 22, 2016 at 7:56 am  Leave a Comment  

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