“When [the disciples] landed [their boat], they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’” John 21:9, 12
This past summer my family and I ate our way through Spain. I had the opportunity to travel there with the University of Delaware Wind Ensemble and Edwin, Eva, and my mother-in-law came along for some vacation after the tour. My husband had tried to explain it to me before our trip; the act of eating the gastronomical goodness of the average Spanish meal would be as central to our experience as much as any museum, historical site, or other stops along the way.
Spain, I might add, is also my husband’s very favorite place on God’s green earth. Since before we even purchased our tickets he excitedly went on and on about the tapas—little dishes of goodies that fill the table with color and flavor, including everything from grilled peppers to patatas bravas (Spain’s answer to French fries) to octopus and garlic shrimp. He told me about the numerous regional paellas which were probably my favorite. (Top picture is Valencian Paella!) The dish, put simply, is rice flavored with saffron, cooked with seafood and/or chicken and/or rabbit and/or chorizo, depending on the region. Before the trip, Edwin had made his own red wine sangria recipe, but Spanish sangria, vino de verano (summer wine) and fresh-squeezed orange juice, were beyond any description anyone could have given. As much as Edwin talked it up, I was surprised to find it not a bit oversold. Yet, what surprised me most, was how spending almost a month in Spain—between concerts and family vacation—could change my outlook on eating all together.
The thing that struck me most about eating in Spain, was not the food itself per se, but the way Spaniards approached eating in general. Take dinner, for example. In the summer it stays light very late, in some places as late as 11PM, and so dinner begins (at the earliest) at 9:00. (Some restaurants open early for tourists, at 8PM!) The later in the day, the lighter the fare becomes (hence, the tapas concept.) At the average Spanish restaurant at 11 PM, you will see tables full of people chatting and enjoying each other’s company, sitting together late into the night leisurely enjoying a “meal.” I put it in quotes because it goes on so long and the food is so varied that it feels more like appetizers that just keep coming. Eventually everyone is drinking coffee instead of wine and the evening ends with a stroll in the plaza, not with that crazy-full American dinner feeling, but one of lightness, satisfaction, laughter, and energy. The Spanish seem to savor just a few morsels of these curated dishes, each made with top ingredients, and the conversation and togetherness are like their own little tapas, too. Watching Spaniards eat, it seemed everyone was surrounded by friends and family, and the meal was just as much as a social event as it was dinner. The servers are in no hurry. Many times I thought we were done and out came another dish. Edwin had to constantly remind me to slow down; enjoy each bite, sit, and savor. In those moments I was so grateful to be alive, eating in Spain was in-and-of-itself an act of gratitude for all that we had been given… even if it was after midnight before we finished.
In the passage at the top of this post, from the end of the Gospel of John, we find Jesus our Chef—resurrected—cooking some fish. (You know, as resurrected people tend to do). Of all the things Jesus might say to me when I encounter him: “Hungry? I made you some fish,” seems the most unexpected. Yet knowing what I know now about how they eat in Spain, I’m starting to understand the sweetness of finding Jesus preparing and sharing a meal for those he loved on earth.
Just as Jesus tends to do, the poignant symbolism and practicality of his actions break my heart open. I imagine the disciples wandering around—worried, shocked, lost—since Jesus’ death. They have to be wondering what to do next, how to go about life after all that had happened, forgetting to eat, unable to sleep, not practicing good self-care. And there’s Jesus: who doesn’t just make the fish appear in their nets, but gets to work building the fire and cooking them himself.
We have a God who can, has, and will provide for each of our cravings.
The one who created the act of eating, which could have been one of life’s boring necessities, created our need for nourishment as an unbelievably satisfying experience. Each time our hunger returns, Jesus teaches us to pray for more. Yet just like the manna in the wilderness Jesus instructs us to ask for only our daily bread. Maybe we don’t see that God wants us to depend on him daily—not only because he will provide for our needs, but because he plans on coming down to the beach himself and serve us everything we hunger for. Our need for the fish Jesus offers tells us that our cravings have congruent satisfaction, and these hungers are to be satisfied not just by a divinely ordained harvest, but by God’s own sacrifice and service.
But we, like the disciples, come to the table longing for more than calories. We long for the community and connection that is a meal in Spain. Jesus offers that, too. I imagine the disciples eating tapas with Jesus on the beach, as the sun rises, laughing, grateful, hearts burning within them. They likely offered thanks to God for the bounty in the nets and for the hands that prepared the meal—and realized it was God himself who had done both.
To see Jesus constantly breaking bread with those he loved reminds me to eat dinner Spanish-style more often. When we pause to be grateful for the beauty and blessings we have on our table, whatever the cuisine, we realize we are in the presence of the divine. Jesus knew, like the Spaniards, breaking bread together is about much more than sustenance; it’s about community and belonging. And at Jesus’s Table, all are welcome.