Text: John 14: 19-20
19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Every once in awhile growing up in Iowa we would get a really good snowstorm and they would call off school. Now understand this didn’t happen nearly often enough, but it usually did happen at least a couple of times each winter. When it would happen, my mother, who worked in the public school system as a physical education teacher would suddenly have a day off that she didn’t expect. I don’t know if you have ever found yourself in the situation where you had unexpected free time, but it is a great feeling-you think to yourself “I have the whole day to spend as I want…what am I going to do?”
When my mother would ask that question, the answer was almost always the same; she would bake. Cookies and breads and muffins and who knows what else were on the menu and as the snow fell and the wind howled outside, the kitchen would fill with great aromas and the warmth of the oven. I have quite a few memories of coming into the kitchen after having been outside playing in the snow or shoveling or running a snow blower; chilled to the bone and then thawing out while basking in the warmth and aroma of that kitchen.
To this day whenever it is stormy or snowy or I have some unexpected free time often my first instinct is to bake something. Isn’t that interesting how the habits and opinions and personality of my mother are still present in me today? There is a part of her that lives within me.
Certainly this is true in part to biology; she was my mother, after all. But I think it is also partly true because of the medium of food. There is something unique and special about preparing and consuming food that binds you together; particularly food that is somewhat unique to your own personal experience. For example, one of the cookies that mom would bake were called oatmeal jobbies; I have not ever seen another cookie quite like an oatmeal jobbie; I think they are quite unique to my experience growing up. I don’t know where the recipe came from so I just attribute it to my mother. But today, when I bake oatmeal jobbies, my mother is present with me; she is there in the kitchen and the smells and the warmth of the oven always take me back to the great blizzards in Iowa as a kid. I don’t think my experience is particularly rare; I believe many others experience the same kinds of family connections particularly through food and recipes and meals while gathered at the table.
A few years ago my sister put together a recipe book that she gave to the rest of the family as a Christmas present. This isn’t just a recipe book, it is also a photo album; there are pictures in here from 30 or 40 of even 50 years ago; family pictures that capture the spirit and the essence of what it meant to grow up in the Cram household in Iowa during that time. It also captures the essence of what it means to share food with one another and in the process to share recipes as well.
Here is one photo from that recipe book. As you can see, it is much better to share a sundae with someone than to just eat it alone. I don’t know who took this picture or where my sister found it; it is a mystery to me. As far as we can figure, this was taken in LeMars, where Heidi and I both grew up, sometime before we were married. It could have been 1972 or perhaps 1973, we are not sure.
There is something else that is very telling in this recipe book. The opening page and the very first recipe speaks volumes about my experience; it reads “first things first” and the recipe is for homemade ice cream.
The ritual of HMIC as we called it in the Cram household was quite a process. The hand-crank freezer was huge – I think it made a gallon or perhaps even five quarts of ice cream. That meant we needed a big crowd to consume all that, so there were always a lot of people present. Every birthday or anniversary or any get together of any kind almost always included HMIC.
This was before the days of ice makers and convenience stores with self-serve 5 or 10 pound bags of ice, so my Dad invented a system. In the basement we had a large chest freezer. Every time we emptied a cardboard carton of milk-I think they were half-gallons-my dad would rinse it out and then fill it with water. Then he would put the carton in the chest freezer in the basement. When it came time for the next HMIC ritual, we always had plenty of ice. The cardboard carton would hold together pretty well even when you broke the ice into small chunks with a hammer-then you could rip the carton open and empty the crushed ice into the ice cream freezer. While the guys were crushing ice, my mother was usually busy washing the freezer and creating the mixture from our now famous HMIC recipe that appears in this recipe book. Once assembled, the cranking would begin and everyone would have a turn. My dad insisted that rock salt worked better than the granulated stuff, so he would always steal some rock salt from the water softener and add just the right amount of salt until finally the mixture was frozen. Then we would indulge.
Keep in mind this wasn’t just about having ice cream to go with the cake. It was much more than that. If we just needed ice cream it was available…after all, this took place in LeMars, Iowa, home of Blue Bunny ice cream-believe me when I tell you good ice cream was available; but that wasn’t the point, most of the joy and most of the memories are from the ritual, not the ice cream.
Today, I have an ice cream freezer that resembles the one we used when I was a kid. We don’t use it often, but when we do, my parents are alive and present in that ice cream freezer. There are connections here, a connection to ritual, a connection to memories and a connection to ice cream, but mostly, there is a connection to family, my parents and my childhood. Ritual and food can bring those connections back to life for each of us.
I believe that Jesus felt these same connections. He often shared meals and food with his disciples and others that he cared about; even the some of the stories surrounding his resurrection include the sharing of food. When the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was in the Father and we are in Jesus and Jesus is in us one of the ways we can experience that reality is through ritual and another way is through food. This is the power of communion.
If you remember I mentioned that our HMIC ritual really wasn’t so much about the ice cream, we could find that anywhere. In like manner, I’m certain you could find a morsel of bread and a little shot of juice almost anywhere-communion isn’t really about the bread and the cup. It is about the ritual and the connections that ritual represents and the connections that ritual can produce. When we partake of communion we are connecting with the Divine in such a way that we can feel the Christ within us and the Divine presence around us. We are connected to the family of God in the same way I am connected to family when I make HMIC or when I bake oatmeal jobbies when it snows.
Our communion table has been set, our communion meal has been prepared and the connections to the family of God are ours to experience.