And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
To soothe the soul a mom bakes. For me, my mom baked lasagna. It takes a lot of work and expense to create. Mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, and then some parmesan. She cooked Italian sausage and a marinara sauce ahead of time. There was the prep time, then the bake time. The smells from the kitchen filled our small tract house. All of this done with a smile. She knew how much I would love to devour the casserole the same way Garfield the cat would. Parents do like to spoil kids, but there is something mystical about moms and comfort food. For dads, we buy ice cream—both for ourselves as well as our kids. Okay, our spouse, too. But, the labor of making a piece of art like a lasagna or a cake transcends taking someone out for ice cream.
My grandma, who we called Gammie, would bake an angel food cake covered with thick chocolate frosting for my birthday. I didn’t need candles with that cake. It was my cake alone to indulge. And I did share it, like I assumed the rest of the household would enjoy the lasagna, too. But, these were for me. They weren’t trophies for winning the game, stars on the wall chart for good behavior, or bribes to shape up. Is it really spoiling a kid, or adult, to honor them with comfort? Shame tells us it’s a reward or that there might be a cost. What’s the catch? No catch. Instead, it was about the relationship with my mom. It’s grating the cheese while my mom chatted with me, feeling the embrace of grandma’s arms while she visited me, or eating dad’s mounds of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with the brothers while we played the board game Risk till late in the evening.
What was the real reward, the food or the company? The food just was a ceremony to envelop the moment in a capsule of time with tastes and smells you never forget. When you love someone, comfort food is a way of sharing your life. Like food, our life is consumed and used up this side of heaven. I treasure the comfort food as memories, as my grandma and my mother are no longer with me. My dad has been gone since I was a teenager. Comfort food recalls the treasured memories of the ones who loved me enough to set a table for me.
We all lack a bit of this comfort at this moment. Setting a table looks a bit less extravagant during a pandemic, like it would during war or any other dark season in history. Our society aches for the reward of being together—even with loose friends or acquaintances. If we make each other have to prove ourselves to get a seat at our table, we cheapen life. Deny a meal of unconditional love then shame takes root and imprisons us. This is both an external and internal battle: the fight to love like a mom, or dad, loves.
We are starved for comfort food, and scarcity demands rationing. But that’s not how mom’s lasagna worked. Extravagance is allowed when we love without condition. Imagine shunning that casserole. That would be tragic! This is how I think we struggle with faith. We simply attach transactional expectations to comfort food—even while we may be hungry for any food at all. We feel abandoned by such displays of reward. Trophies are given for our efforts, not our presence. Would Christ want us simply to dine and enjoy him? Worship isn’t a scheme of my paying dues and then earning my forgiveness. It’s enjoying every bite of that angel food cake, and sharing the spoils with those around me.
We focus so much on the simplicity of the wine and bread at Communion, that we miss the abundance. Jesus gathered, regardless of their loyalty or performance, friends for a complete meal. It sealed the memory of their relationship to Jesus. Jesus was the meal, not a wafer and sip of wine. The table, filled with some laughs and awkward moments, was a feast of Jesus and with Jesus. It is here for us, not because we’ve earned it, but because we need to be reminded of what his unconditional love feels like. Like mom’s comfort food, the tastes and smells mark the fact that I am loved for simply being me. In this way, Jesus himself is our comfort food.
I miss Jesus’s presence in between each time at the Table. I do—whether or not I am aware of it. When I forget that the overflowing affection Christ has for me is constant, it’s easy to skip sitting at that table. Some of us even give up showing up entirely. I don’t blame people for walking away from the baggage of shame wrongly placed in such a celebration. It’s a challenge to choose love over fear after bad experiences at church. Undoing that requires the very thing we may be afraid of. But the call to meet together and worship isn’t to check off a box: it’s a charge to spur each other on to love and good deeds. These the world needs in great supply as our meal together sends us out to set tables of our own for those around us. After all, we all need comfort food.
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Rich Kirkpatrick, a writer and leadership consultant based in Long Beach, CA, authored The Six Hats of the Worship Leader and leads worship with A Beautiful Liturgy. You can find him at rkblog.com