Celebration of Comfort Food

Celebration of Comfort Food

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In her memoir, Paula Deen: It Ain't All About the Cookin', the internationally recognized chef and food network personality explains why she refers to some of her favorite dishes as comfort food: food that she turns to for soothing and security. When she married her high school sweetheart at a young age, her parents, with whom she was very close, gave her the option of a big wedding or a stove and refrigerator as a wedding present. Something inside her compelled her to say: "I'll take the stove and refrigerator," a choice that she later said, "set my destiny."

According to the memoir, her life got messy quickly: two small boys to care for, a husband who drank excessively and became verbally abusive and emotionally distant, and the death of her grandparents and parents all within a short period of time. As a result, she became progressively more depressed and agoraphobic, having an irrational fear about leaving her home.

During these dark years she discovered great comfort in preparing and serving treasured family recipes on her wedding-present stove. Her mother's "chocolate-dippy doughnuts" and her grandmother's recipe for "courage chili" were inexpensive, uncomplicated, easy to prepare, and a source of great comfort. She remembered the good times and lessons learned from her loved ones. Somehow, this food reconnected her to those loving family members and gave her a sense of well-being and security, if only temporarily. These pleasant associations comforted her. These became her comfort foods.

When I was a kid, my mother, Katie Reedy, who was not an internationally recognized cook by any stretch of the imagination, but who made a few dishes really well, got into the habit of keeping potato soup in the slow cooker on the kitchen counter. I remember vividly coming home after high school football practice, or arriving home after a 10-hour drive from college, to be greeted by my good mother and her potato soup. To this day, whenever or wherever I eat potato soup, I recall the love, warmth, and spiritual influence of this godly woman, and I am comforted.

On the first Sunday of October, Christians from all around the world will celebrate the Lord's Supper. World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) originated in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1936. It did not take long for other faith traditions to catch on to the significance of the day. World Communion Sunday has become one of the very special days on the Christian calendar. On this day we celebrate our oneness in Christ and we remember.

We remember that Jesus our Lord himself ordained this holy sacrament. We remember that the table is His and the feast is for His disciples. We remember His passion and death upon the cross. We remember how great the Father's love is for us.

Jesus said: "Do this in remembrance of me" and we do. We remember.

Strangely enough, somehow this inexpensive, uncomplicated, and rather easy-to-prepare meal soothes us. The bread and the cup become comfort food for those who have, with true repentance, forsaken their sins and have believed in Christ unto salvation. When we draw near and receive these emblems, and by faith partake of the life of Jesus Christ, the meal brings both comfort and joy to our souls. We remember and we are reconnected.

While attending classes at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., I heard professor Laurence Hull Stookey tell of a student just beginning her summer internship at a Methodist church in the D.C. area. After a brief orientation, the senior pastor gave the young intern her first assignment. "I want you to go over to the nursing home and serve communion to one of our members. Now I want to prepare you for the visit. The member you will visit is advanced in years and suffers with Alzheimer's disease. She will not know you. She will not respond to you much, if at all. She doesn't remember her family or friends. She does not remember me though I've been her pastor for many years. In fact, she cannot remember her own name. Nonetheless, I want you to visit her and serve her communion."

The intern, puzzled by her assignment, prepared her communion kit and hopped in her car for the 20-minute drive through the city's busy streets. Later, she admitted that the closer she got to the nursing home, the more agitated she became. "Why am I doing this? What have I gotten myself into? She won't even know I'm there. Won't this be a waste of my time?" Sure enough, upon the intern's arrival at the woman's room, she found the elderly member to be just as the pastor described: unresponsive.

As the intern spoke, the woman stared into space vacantly. Finally, the intern read through the communion ritual and invited her to receive the elements. No response. Not knowing what to do next, the intern took the bread and placed it carefully between the woman's fingers. Suddenly, the elderly woman lifted the wafer to her lips and ate it. Then, the woman turned to the intern and declared: "Oh my, how much God must love me." For one brief moment, she remembered, and it brought both comfort and joy to her soul.

So this World Communion Sunday and always, when you take this simple meal between your fingers remember: it is to your soul's comfort and joy. May God's unfailing love be your comfort! (Psalm 119:76)

Bud Reedy is senior pastor of Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in York, Pennsylvania.

Holiness Today, Sept/Oct 2008