Technically, soul food is cornbread and collard greens, fried chicken, ribs, macaroni and cheese, and sweet tea (alright, so it's also banana pudding, chicken and dumplings, fried catfish, hushpuppies, etc). It's comfort food. It's often greasy and fattening, but we set that aside because it brings happy memories and hits the spot.
It draws us back into memories in the kitchen with our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers or at the barbeque with our fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. Sweet smells waft through the air and tantilize our senses and tease our taste buds--all beckoning to our stomachs. We laugh and share stories as the meal is prepared, anticipating that final moment when we'll sit at the table and savor the sauces, juices, flavors, and seasonings.
When the heavenly moment of indulgence arrives, our nostrils consume the sweet, spicy, and friend smells of the flavors of home. The incarnational taste of love served up on a platter.
During the meal, we share more stories, more laughter, jokes and anecdotes. The food holds not just its tangible flavor and sustenance; it is also inextricably linked to the flavor and sustenance of life itself--flavors of love, care, encouragement, and memory andn the sustenance of relationship. For soul food is not just food we eat--life-giving for our body, but also life-giving for our soul. Soul food is not just food with soul, it is food for the soul. It's pleasures, riches, and meaning can only be known when we combine the power of the palate with the intensity of soul-filled relationships.
This is the essence of Jesus' message in John 6. When he says, "I am the bread of life," he's not simply speaking about the physical substance, as the Jews believe. He's also talking about spiritual sustenance--his own life-giving power. We cannot experience Christ's soul food if we fail to recognize how he feeds our soul. We might taste the bread--his body--the sacrifice of God's love, but if we only taste bread (wheat, white, pita, tortilla, leavened or unleavened) then we don't' actually get the experience or the notion Jesus is trying to convey.
Thinking again about Southern soul food--it's possible to simply eat fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. You can even enjoy the food for what it is--good food. But without the connections to family, friends, and nourishment for your soul, then you won't actually experience soul food.
Similarly with Christ, it's possible to simply eat the bread and drink from the cup. You'll taste the bread and wine; your palate will confirm that. But if you can't connect the physical offering of bread and wine with your heart and soul, with Christ's saving and pardoning act, with the richness and fullness of God's grace and mercy--then you haven't truly experienced Christ's soul food. To truly eat the bread of life is to experience the connection. The food is not just food; it is intrinsically linked to something more.
So, this day, as we partake of this holy meal, I want you to taste--not just in your mouth, but in your soul this sacred meal God has set before us. Savor the flavors in your mouth and be sure to savor the sustenance of grace, mercy, and forgiveness in your soul as well.