Tuesday, June 27, 2017

a complex flavour profile

Winning ... Billie’s botrytis cinerea dessert, which won her the competition. Picture: Channel 10.
Image from www.news.com.au
Botrytis cinerea dessert, Australian Masterchef 2015 winning dish
I am not much of a foodie. Most days, a protein shake and a few handfuls of popcorn constitute lunch. And I like it that way. However, my husband, Dean, loves to experience food from around the world and is always looking for exciting combinations of flavours and textures. A gourmet meal features depth and complexity in its flavour profile. There may be bitter, sweet, sour, spice, and saltiness all present in one bite. Rich cream, fresh mint, hot cayenne, spongy light cake, and crunchy chocolate brittle all stimulate different sensations. A fine meal is one which causes not only your taste buds, but your olfactory system, your eyes, your ears, and even your sense of touch, to be awakened.

I often think of Jesus's invitation/command to Peter to "feed my sheep" (John 21). This is not only a pastoral metaphor with multiple meanings (Jesus as a shepherd, people as sheep who need care and nourishment, one shepherd training another shepherd, etc.) but it is also a food metaphor. Eating is something that all living creatures spend a significant amount of time doing. Like the other appetites, eating combines necessity with pleasure, ensuring that those things which give us life in a physical sense also give us life in other ways.

Whenever I preach, teach, or write, my prayer is that I might provide something both tasty and nourishing for those who receive my words. The reason I pray this is not only because of Jesus's directive to Peter, but because preparing a feast is what God does. During the wilderness wanderings of the newly-freed Israelites, God provided sweet, flaky manna every morning. The seven feasts established in Leviticus describe the covenant between God and humanity through a complex Middle Eastern menu. In Psalm 23, we see a shepherd who leads sheep to an oasis, providing respite and refreshment along with food and drink. Later in the poem we find a contrasting setting: a feast prepared in the midst of enemies. Both quiet meadow and hostile environments become settings for enjoying nourishment.

In the gospels, we find Jesus miraculously feeding hungry people with simple peasant fare (fish and bread) and providing fine wine to those already satiated at a wedding feast (John 6 and John 2). But the meal that subsumes and supersedes all of these is the one where Jesus indicates that he himself is on the menu. Quite early in his ministry, Jesus said: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). At a Passover meal with his disciples, he was even more explicit, asking them to eat his body and drink his "blood of the covenant" in the form of unleavened bread and wine (Matt 26).

Unleavened bread is made with flour, salt, olive oil, and water. It is poor person's bread, and in the Passover feast, it is known both as the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. During a Passover seder, there are four cups of wine drunk during the celebration, each remembering one of the promises of YHWH found in Exodus 6:6-7: 1) I will take you out, 2) I will save you, 3) I will redeem you, and 4) I will take you as a nation. The Eucharistic meal, which echoes the Passover feast, features the simple elements of bread and wine. However, as already noted, it reveals a surprisingly complex flavour profile. The feast of Jesus encompasses the sweet (fullness of joy) and the bitter (share in his sufferings). It combines finely aged ingredients with fresh ones (old and new covenants joined together). It presents a shocking, acidic tang (love your enemies) while at the same time stewing everything in a soothing, warm broth ("I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually - regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age" Matt. 28:20, The Amplified Bible).

The feast of Jesus is a gourmet meal prepared by a master chef.[1] It is a complex combination of flavours which stimulate and awaken all the senses of mind, body, and spirit.  The best chefs are able to take all their experience, all their knowledge and skill, all their love of good food, nutrition, and beauty, and put it on a plate for others to enjoy. Jesus, our chef, does more than that. He puts himself on a plate. He is the food for our hungry souls. Let us pull up a seat at his generous table and dig in.

"O taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8)

[1] Chef: a French word meaning chief, head, leader, or master.



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