THE symbolism of food plays a large part in all religions, and especially in Christianity. As within the mysteries of the created order we must all take food and give food – more, must take life and give life – we are here already in touch with the “life-giving and terrible mysteries of Christ,” who indwells that order; for all is sacramental expression of His all-demanding and all-giving life. We accept our constant dependence on physical food as a natural and inevitable thing. Yet it is not necessarily so: there are creatures which are free from it for very long periods of time.
But perhaps because of his border-line status, his embryonic capacity for God, man is kept in constant memory of his own fragility, unable to maintain his existence for long without food from beyond himself; his bodily life dependent on the humble plants and animals that surround him, his soul’s life on the unfailing nourishment of the life of God. “I am the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. He that eateth of this bread shall live forever.” Eternal life is the gift, the self-imparting of the Eternal God. We cannot claim it in our own right.
The Biblical writers make plain to us how easily and inevitable men have given spiritual rank to this primitive truth of life’s dependence on food, and seen in it the image of a deeper truth which concerns the very ground of our being . . .
Throughout His ministry, our Lord emphasized the idea of feeding as something intimately connected with His love and care for souls. The mystery of the Eucharist does not stand alone. It is the crest of a great wave; a total sacramental disclosure of the dealings of the Transcendent God with men. That the hunger of the four thousand and five thousand are more than miracles of man is the matter of Christ’s first temptation. The feedings of practical compassion; we feel that in them something of deep significance is done, one of the mysteries of Eternal Life a little bit unveiled. So too in the Supper at Emmaus, when the bread is broken the Holy One is known. It is peculiar to Christianity, indeed part of the mystery of the Incarnation, that it constantly shows us this coming of God through and in homely and fugitive things and events; and puts the need and dependence of the creature at the very heart of prayer.