Today we’ll be talking about nourishment, those things that give us strength—from food to exercise to Jesus himself. Listen in.
Morale in our family during this pandemic is directly correlated with how well we are eating. Is this happening at your house too? The truth is, if my daughter is cooking, then everyone is happy, because her goal is joy—beautiful, delicious, sometimes nutritious works of art! My daughter has been making homemade ice cream during our “shelter-in-place”: so far we’ve enjoyed mint chocolate chip (with fresh mint from our garden), Mexican chocolate, and vanilla bean custard.
As much as I hate to admit it, ice cream does not provide true nourishment. Neither do potato chips, sadly. Homemade chicken noodle soup does; roasted vegetables do. The difference between the nourishment of ice cream and homemade chicken noodle soup is this: the ice cream offers fleeting, short-term pleasure, and the soup offers vitamins, minerals, and long-term sustenance.
What is nourishing you during this quarantine? What gives you strength? What offers you health? Good, quality food. Exercise or movement of any kind. Being outdoors. Talking with friends and family. Reading the Bible. Praying to God. Worshipping online.
In the face of suffering, disease, and death—which our whole world is facing now—where does our strength, our health, our nourishment come from? The good news is that it does not primarily come from us—it comes from God. In these words from Psalm 28:
6Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
7The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
8The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever. Amen. (Psalm 28.6-9)
In normal times, most of us like to think we can rely on our own strength. In this unusual season, we see more clearly that our strength is not enough. Whether we recognize it or not, the Lord is our strength and our shield. In God your heart can trust.
Yet the strength that God provides often looks unusual—even weak. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul talks about a “thorn in his flesh” (an illness, a burden of some kind, something causing him pain), and he prays to God about it, in chapter 12:
8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12.8-10)
This strength made perfect in weakness is a different kind of strength than the world recognizes. It’s a different kind of strength than we were hoping for, frankly. And yet it’s precisely the kind of strength that Jesus had—and that he offers us now. Strength made perfect in weakness.
For those of us feeling weak and weary, turn to God. That’s what Jesus did at his lowest moment; he turned to God in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you’re feeling angry and need to yell and plead with God—go for it! The Scriptures are full of people doing that very thing. And if you’re feeling unworthy, not up to the challenge, pour out your heart before God. And if you’re fearful, struggling to see the end of all this, offer your cares and concerns to God. This sounds like a complicated spiritual move—transforming your burdens to God—but God is the one doing the heavy lifting. Your part is to honestly approach God and offer your burdens, humbly acknowledge your limits. This spiritual move can be done in silence with your eyes closed, or with the one word “help,” or with an overflow of words.
God strengthens us by carrying our burdens for us. What a great relief! God also strengthens us in an ordinary, concrete way—through food. In the words of Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian opera singer: “One of the very best things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” Every meal of this quarantine, from old freezer leftovers to an Easter feast, is a foretaste of the food that truly nourishes us—Jesus himself. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Jesus feeds us with his own self in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. This meal that truly nourishes gives us strength and joy forever.
When I talk about food, I get hungry. So as we turn now to God in prayer, we’ll use the words of one of John Calvin’s table blessings before a meal:
O LORD, in whom is the source and inexhaustible fountain of all good things, pour out thy blessing upon us, and sanctify to our use the meat and drink which are the gifts of thy kindness towards us, that we, using them soberly and frugally as thou enjoinest, may eat with a pure conscience. Grant, also, that we may always both with true heartfelt gratitude acknowledge, and with our lips proclaim thee our Father and the giver of all good, and, while enjoying bodily nourishment, aspire with special longing of heart after the bread of thy doctrine, by which our souls may be nourished in the hope of eternal life, through Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.
Until next time, receive this blessing from Jesus himself:
I am the bread of life, the living bread that came down from heaven.
Eat of me and you will have strength and joy forever. Amen.