The Sacraments are for the hurting. And if you consider how it is structured you understand that a bit better. Why do we eat first and then drink after? Because the world goes from bread to wine; from suffering to glory. The bread is broken for us because Christ suffered for us. His body was broken; and in that brokenness he sympathizes with our weakness. He knows the depths of human sorrow like no other God.
I met someone this week who is dying, but now has to deal with a wife who is also at the point of death. His words to me were: “What kind of man would I be at this stage in my life if I did not trust in God?” “ A miserable man,” I answered. We eat bread because our lives are at times broken apart through pain and suffering. Bread reminds us of that brokenness. It reminds us that Christ was broken that we might be one.
After bread comes the wine; the wine, which throughout the Bible is God’s symbol of joy. Judges says that wine “gladdens the heart of God and man.” Wine reminds us that after suffering comes laughter; after pain comes peace. And so we pass the peace of Christ to one another reminding and re-enforcing the idea that Christ is our peace.
Bread and wine are here given for the people of God: eat and drink for in Christ we are one in suffering and joy.
According to J. Duncan M. Derrett in “Water into Wine,” (Biblische Zeitschrift, Neue Folge, 7 (1963), pp. 84-85,89) Mary was deeply concerned about the shortage of wine in John two for a few reasons:
First, she was deeply involved in the preparation for the festivities.
Secondly, the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of general disruption.
Thirdly, there would be obvious embarrassment to the host family.
Finally, there was a possibility of legal action against the family.
The lack of wine could be the source of legal action! Not only does wine cheer the heart, but it also keeps you out of legal problems. To not provide for the guests of the wedding would be the ultimate insult. But we also know that wine is a sign of kingship. When one is invited to the feast, he joins the royal gathering and drinks what kings drink. Finally, we must keep in mind that in God’s house wine is never lacking, for He prepares a feast for kings and queens every time we gather to praise Him.
The Lord of all glory gives us of Himself that we might be nurtured. He nurtures us that we might perpetuate His example of selfless giving and nurture the world. At this table we are reminded and exhorted to serve one another just as we have been served by Christ. This table is the giving of the Son for a holy people: a people made holy by the One who is altogether Holy. We do not weep at the table of a dead Savior, but we rejoice in the presence of an Exalted Lord. Let us rejoice as we dine with our Lord.
Robert Capon once wrote that “Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.” Babette’s Feast is Robert Capon on screen. It is a delicious blend of humor and smells; sights and music. It is virtually impossible to contemplate the movie without considering its vastly religious and sacramental implications.
The 1987 movie is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen. The characters–two elderly maiden sisters–Martine and Philippa, continue the work of their deceased father, who was a prophet/pastor figure of a small Christian sect. After the death of their father, the two sisters immerse themselves in a life of charity while carrying their father’s work to a decreasing and dying number of followers. The two beautiful young women never married. Their father’s vision kept them from pursuing “worldly concerns.”
First, Lorenz Lowenhielm, a dissolute young cadet, in summer exile at his aunt’s Jutland home as a result of parental punishment for unbecoming behavior, is captivated by Martine’s beauty, has an idealistic vision of a higher, purer life and wins an introduction to the pious circle where he hopes to make her acquaintance. But he soon finds himself at a loss in the rarified atmosphere and leaves, claiming that some things are impossible. The “world,” he announces, will be his heritage and he vows to achieve all worldly success, a feat which he duly accomplishes. Next, Achille Papin, a famous opera singer, finds himself on the remote coastland in search of rest. The solitude plunges him into a bleak mood which is relieved only upon hearing Philippa’s voice raised in angelic hymnody. Believing that her voice is destined to thrill the heart of Europe, Papin offers himself as vocal tutor and educates his pupil in the operatic repertoire. The frank sensuality of the musical lyrics soon convinces his pupil that she must terminate the lessons and Papin returns to the continent without her.
Years later, during the French Civil War, Papin sends them Babette. Babette has lost both husband and son and is now seeking refuge from war in the small island.
Babette’s work ethic and great culinary gifts bring a certain happiness and economic stability to the sisters. Babette’s role in the small community–especially among the few devout–is that of a peace-bringer. The remaining disciples cease to seek peace and the quarrels increase. Babette brings shalom to the community as she embraces a spirit-figure restoring and putting broken pieces together.
In order to reconcile and restore peace to the saints, the two sisters decide to offer a meal in celebration of her father’s one-hundredth birthday ( had he been alive). As the date draws near, Babette receives news that she has won 10,000 francs in the French lottery. The sisters are certain that Babette will now return to France and live off her new prize. Instead, Babette decides to use her lottery wins to prepare a feast of a lifetime for the hundredth birthday celebration.
Babette, the culinary artist, goes to France and returns with all the ingredients (living and dead). Unaware of the strange ingredients to the feast–turtles, live quail, and wine–the sisters and the disciples decide to make a vow that they will lose their sense of taste and smell during the feast.
As the guests pour in and as each course is served and each glass filled, the vow becomes harder and harder to fulfill. Each bite and each sip bring them new life and vitality, which begins to undo the bitterness and restore the small community. The quarrels are turned into joy and the memories are turned into frameable moments in their history.
The movie ends with a heavenly picture of the saints singing around a well. The well, the very biblical image of wars and wedding bells, become the symbol of joy and restoration, sins forgiven and relationships healed.
Babette’s Feast provides an image of the holy. The holy is not other-worldly, it is the entrance of the heavenly into the world. The feast becomes a celebration of life. Bread and wine are not merely earthly nourishment, but the relentless call of grace to those who are afar off. Come and taste the feast.