The theology of soups and casseroles

Nov. 9th, 2015 — Pam Duncan

One of my family members recently broke his hip and then, after a week home from the hospital, suffered a rather serious complication that landed him back there in the Intensive Care Unit. At that point I put out a prayer request to the Sojourn church community. As my family member stabilized and came back home to continue his recovery, church members started showing up one by one at our door with soups, casseroles, and accompanying side dishes and desserts (one even brought a nice bottle of wine to go with her Italian-themed meal).

The offerings freed us up from cooking for a week, and thus allowed me to catch up on the many things that had been left neglected during those hours I had spent at the hospital and acting as primary care-giver. And they were delicious.

When my injured family member—long ago disillusioned by his experiences of “church”—asked why people were bringing us meals, the answer that came most easily was: “Because that’s what Mennonites do.” But the question got me thinking: why do we do this? Is there some kind of theology behind it, and if so, what is it? As I began pondering, I realized that these offerings were much more than just convenient sources of food. In essence, these soups and casseroles were a form of church itself.

Food played a central role in Jesus’ ministry and in the early Christian church. In Luke and Acts alone, there are over 100 references to food and drink. Jesus is frequently depicted sharing meals with all kinds of people. The feeding of the five thousand, the bread and wine at the Last Supper: these were imbued with a kind of sacredness.

Now as then, food provides the context for connecting with each other and with God. It is an ordinary, mundane manifestation of extraordinary grace. It is a shared experience of God’s abundance.

When food is shared as a gesture of support during a time of personal crisis or need, it takes on an added significance. It represents mutual acceptance that we are on this road together and that God put us here to help one another along the way. By the norms of our society, it can be difficult to ask for or accept help — we want to avoid being a “burden” to others. A favorite Mennonite hymn reminds us that, in serving one another, the blessings flow both ways:

Will you let me be your servant—let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

Of course, at its most basic a casserole is just a casserole and a soup is just a soup: vegetables, meat, maybe some noodles or cheese, some seasonings. And obviously Mennonites—Christians in general—do not have a monopoly on providing such help to friends in need. But joy and comfort are found in the recognition that, when offered in community as a symbol of God’s love, these simple dishes contain a taste of the divine.