From the Book of Numbers:
And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Wadi Eshcol, because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Numbers 13:23-24 (NRSV) – June 20, 2014)
Have you ever noticed how one of the most common sorts of souvenirs to be brought back from a trip is food? Every time we travel, my wife and I, we bring back food. Sometimes the authorities thwart us, but we try.
For example, when we made our first trip to Ireland a few years ago, we fell in love with some Irish sausages and with Irish bacon. In the duty-free shop at Dublin’s airport, however, we found a big sign on the meat products refrigerator advising that they could not be brought into the United States. We contented ourselves with some chocolates and some Irish whiskey.
When I was a kid, as I may have mentioned before, I spent summers in Kansas with my paternal grandparents. At the end of the summer my grandparents would often drive me back to Las Vegas and then on to southern California to visit their relatives and my maternal grandparents in the Los Angeles metroplex. Leaving Kansas, my grandfather would pack up some vegetables (especially tomatoes) from his garden into an ice-filled galvanized Gott can (the original Gott cans were made in my grandparents’ town).
Along the road, the ice would be replenished and the produce would stay fresh all the way to Nevada and California. When we got to the California border, there was an agricultural check-point on the highway at (I think) Yermo (or maybe it was Barstow). An officer of the state ag service would ask, “Do you have any fresh fruits or vegetables?” and my strict, up-standing Methodist grandfather, with a straight face and his oh-so-honest-sounding voice would answer, “No, officer.” Off we would drive with our illegal booty of garden produce. A little thing like preventing crop blight was not going to prevent our food souvenirs getting to their final destination.
And at the end of their trip those tomatoes and other veggies produced such delight! It was almost religious the way my maternal grandmother would receive her friends’ gift of a vine-ripened tomato, tenderly caress it, wash it gently, slice and serve it with the lunch she had prepared to welcome us. The look of sheer joy on her face as she tasted her first bite of it, the taste of her home town.
The taste of food reminds us of the places we have been; like the sound of music or certain smells, a taste can incite a flood of memories. Food also anticipates. We, my wife and I, are headed to the Holy Land in a short while. A few weeks ago, our tour organizer hosted a dinner at a near-by Middle Eastern restaurant so that we could meet other group members, hear a bit about our itinerary, and in the meal we shared get a foretaste of what we can expect to enjoy when we are there.
Moses sent spies over into Canaan and they came back with grapes, pomegranates, and figs to prove the land the Hebrews were entering was a bountiful one; like them, we are looking forward to entering the Promised Land. They named the place Eshcol (“cluster”) because of those grapes. One presumes that Moses and the other leaders tasted those fruits and knew the goodness of the land and of God who was giving it to them; they anticipated the future.
We do the same sort of thing each time we gather in worship and share the Eucharist. In it is the taste both of memory and of expectation. Every celebration of Holy Communion is both a memorial of what God has accomplished and a preview of what God has promised. In the Eucharist the past and the future irrupt into the present; our fellowship in the Eucharist with God and with all Christians across time and space is both a remembrance of Christ and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;” says the Psalmist, “happy are they who trust in him!” (Ps 34:8) Taste and see.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.