I spent several hours on Thursday being filmed at home for a series of short profiles on US Adventists.
As part of the filming process, I cooked dinner for the filmmakers. So halfway through the afternoon, I chopped up a little onion, celery and carrot, a bunch of collards, and potatoes; I simmered green split peas and marinated potatoes for roasting; and I stirred things every so often in between our conversations and takes around the house.
This meal, sauteed greens, split peas, and pesto-seasoned potatoes, is the same meal I prepared for relatives during a deeply traumatizing visit in Texas six years ago. I hadn’t thought about that visit for a long time until this summer, and not until I was choosing what to prepare for my friends did I realize that I wanted to reclaim that menu.
Yesterday evening, I gathered at my local church with a mixed multitude of friends and friends-to-be. We convene a small group every first Friday for music, conversation, and communion. It’s an experiment in community-building, and we’re discovering that there isn’t much community without food.
The meal many Christians now call the Last Supper happened, according to the gospels, on a Thursday night. The menu included bread and wine, and perhaps lamb and herbs as well; we don’t know for sure.
But within a single generation, that meal of bread and wine had become a community memory rite. The early Church began to explain their shared meal with memories of the death of Jesus, and they reclaimed the menu, using it to symbolize his execution, reconnect with each other, and reinforce the mutual service that characterized their community. What could have remained a simple traumatic memory became a full-sense memorial that the community actively celebrated together. They reclaimed that final meal.
We can rewrite some stories with the help of a few hours cooking and friends to hold space with. We can reconfigure symbols that remind us of challenging memories when we have space to re-enact the storyline and a supportive network to reinforce the new experience with. We can do this for ourselves and in our communities, and it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than greens, peas, and potatoes, or plates of bread and cups of wine.