Dirt, Bodies, and Food: Our Reconciliation with Creation
No passage in Scripture describes this as well as the early Christian hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 that describes Jesus as the icon ( eikon) of God. Here we are told “all things in heaven and on earth ... visible and invisible,” were created in him, through him, and for him. All the creatures of the world “hold together” only because Jesus, who is “the fullness ( pleroma) of God,” is intimately present to every creature. Literally nothing–no sparrow, no blade of grass, no earthworm, no patch of ground–escapes God’s notice or concern. And then, in words that ought to shock us, we are told that God is reconciling “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
For the early Christian community to speak in this radical way they had to have seen from the beginning that God’s redemptive plan cannot stop with the rescue, and then ethereal flight, of a few individual souls. God’s redemption extends to the whole of material creation because all of it has been loved since time began. God does not ever abandon the bodies of creatures because to do so would amount to a reversal and rejection of the divine love that brought them into being in the first place. It is for this reason that Scripture ends with a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, and with the New Jerusalem descending to earth, because “the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21:3). How disappointing–and frustrating–it will be for the Socratic soul to think it has arrived in heaven by going up and away, only to discover that the true God has come down and here, bringing heaven–the very life and love of God–to earth!
Of course it is one thing to say that God’s reconciling and redeeming ways include the land and all its creatures. It is quite another to figure out what this teaching might practically mean. What does the cross have to say about peace and reconciliation with the land?
One helpful way to get some clarity on it, I think, is to turn our attention to food: what it is, how we get it, and how we eat it. Food joins us to each other, the world, and God. It is the great connector, for as the Cambridge dean William Ralph Inge once put it, “The whole of nature ... is a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and in the passive.”
For many people, food registers primarily as fuel to get us through the day. Neither where it comes from nor how it came to be engages our attention or inspires our love. The average American eater spends relatively little time producing or preparing it. How else should we account for the countless drive-thru lines at fast food restaurants and the thousands of microwaveable, precooked food items available in grocery stores? In contexts like these, food is a commodity that we want to get as cheaply, conveniently, and copiously as possible.
This is not how food appears in Scripture . Here we find that food is one of God’s basic ways of nurturing creatures into life and of providing for their most basic needs. It is God’s love made delectable. In Jesus it is God’s love made into the bread that nurtures us into the life of heaven (John 6). This is why the hospitable sharing of food is so important. When we share food we share life and love. When we welcome and feed others in need we also welcome and feed Jesus (Matthew 25). We participate in and extend to others the hospitality that God first and always shows to us.
God’s hospitality is comprehensive. It can be seen at all levels of eating, beginning with the hospitable soil that welcomes organic and mineral matter, transforming death into fresh fertility. It includes the care of all the creatures in the garden, making room for them to grow into strong and healthy beings that can be a source of nurture and help. Reading the prophets, we see that it demands the transformation of economic and political systems that are unjust in their treatment of farmers, workers, and eaters. And it challenges the social expectations that keep eaters segregated from each other or that neatly divide eaters into the welcome and the unwelcome. We need to remember that Jesus was known and despised by religious leaders as the