“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8
Taste is our most intimate sense. We kiss to taste another whom we desire. Less intimately, we share the taste of food with people we like. Eating a good meal and talking about the flavors is an experience we commonly enjoy with friends. Tasting and eating are important, central to our lives and cultures. We may not share the same tastes as people from other cultures, but every single person on the planet has a taste for something. So it isn’t surprising the Bible is filled with references to food and the lack thereof, and with stories about feasting and famine.
The Apostle John, that friend of Jesus, wrote about an unexpected feast. (John 6) The Lord broke a small boy’s lunch of fish and bread into pieces and fed a crowd of thousands with it. This was ordinary food, nothing fancy, but I imagine it tasted as sweet as honey to the hungry men, women, and children who ate it. And there was plenty of it, which is key to calling any meal a feast. Afterward, Jesus’s disciples gathered leftovers that amounted to much more than the original meal.
Those people enjoyed the meal so much they searched for Jesus again the next day. They found him in a town called Capernaum, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The first thing Jesus said to them was don’t work so hard for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life.
What? There’s food you can eat and live forever? Not surprisingly, they said they wanted such food. It’s obvious they expected something akin to the fish and bread they’d had the day before, akin to the manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness. Something they could take in their hands and put in their mouths.
Instead, Jesus offered himself, a guy they had known since he was a child. They knew his family too. Yet he said his flesh was bread and his blood was drink. He said he was the bread from Heaven, given by God for everlasting life. Jesus said if they ate his flesh, thus believing in him, then and only then, they would live forever. This was too much for most of the people who heard it that day, just as it’s too much for many people today.
You’d be hard pressed today to find a person who denies there was a man named Jesus. It seems to be pretty well documented that he lived and died. For most people, that bit of history is where it ends. He’s just a guy from a long time ago. Everyone knows about him. His name is a common expletive.
But knowing about Jesus isn’t the same as knowing him, just as trying to imagine what something tastes like isn’t the same as tasting it for yourself. To taste is to understand.
Those of us who have tasted Jesus know he is the bread of life. Not only that, we have an appetite for him. An appetite for prayer. An appetite for worship. An appetite for the presence of God in our lives. Christians have these appetites in common, and we enjoy indulging them together, just as friends enjoy sharing a meal. We come away from our times together filled and happy.
That’s why we celebrate Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread. Why we memorialize the breaking of his body, as the bread and fish from a young boy’s lunch were broken to feed so many. Jesus would feed everyone with plenty left over, if only they had an appetite for him.
We have tasted.
We have been fed.