“Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”. Matthew 16:28
“Sensing the Passion” is our theme this Holy Week, reading Saint Matthew’s account of the events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and trying to imagine how the disciples would have experienced those days through their five senses. When we come to the sense of taste, we see in Saint Matthew Chapter 16 Verse 28 that Jesus uses taste as a symbol of experience, “some standing here will not taste death”, he tells his followers, “before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”.
As we follow the events of the week, we are going to think of the physical tastes the disciples encountered, but think of how those particular physical tastes captured the mood of particular moments or the particular emotions aroused by the events.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and Saint Matthew Chapter 21 Verse 8 describes the scene. “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road”. Jerusalem streets two thousand years ago would have been dusty places; a very large crowd moving along the road to meet Jesus would have raised clouds of dust, dust that would have enveloped everyone and covered everything. The disciples would have had the taste of dust upon their lips.
What memories might the taste of dust have recalled for them? Walking that road, would the taste have brought thoughts of the other dusty roads they had walked with Jesus over the previous three years? Would the dust have reminded them of hillsides where Jesus taught, of towns they had passed through? The taste of dust might have brought memories of discomfort, of tiredness, of sore feet and aching bodies; as they passed down that road, what things came to mind?
The taste of dust would not be such a familiar experience for us, perhaps it might recall harvesting, or roadworks, or building sites, on hot summer days. Dust would recall the need for effort, for hard work. Do we put into our Christian lives the sort of effort we would be prepared to show for other activities?
At the end of that first Palm Sunday, Saint Matthew Chapter 21 Verse 17 says, Jesus “left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there”. The disciples remained in the city. Can we imagine what the city must have been like with hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the Passover festival? The air would have been filled with the smoke of countless fires and, breathing that air, there would have been the taste of smoke.
The disciples would have had an everyday familiarity with smoke from fires, every house would have had a fire for cooking and the smokiness of the air might have carried their thoughts back to the many houses in which they had sat with Jesus; the smokiness might have conjured images of their gatherings as Jesus sat with them around a fire.
Does smoky air take us back to earlier times in our own lives? Does air filled with turf smoke take us back to times when we felt more secure? Turf smoke, most of all, seems to have the power to evoke times long past, to make us wish for times when the world seemed different. Jesus offers us a sense of security, he offers to be with us at all times. The taste of smokiness should challenge us to recognize God’s presence with us.
The most obvious examples of the disciples’ experience of a sense of taste during that Holy Week are Jesus sharing the bread and the wine at the Passover meal
Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verse 27 tells, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.'”Commonplace food and commonplace actions became something very special; the food of the Passover became the representation of Jesus’ sacrifice of himself upon the Cross. The breaking of bread became the action by which Jesus was recognized. After he has risen from the dead, Jesus walks with two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they don’t recognize him as they go along the road, but they invite Jesus into the house. Saint Luke Chapter 24 Verse 30-31 say, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him”. The taste of broken bread became a reminder of the crucified and risen Jesus.
The taste of broken bread can become a reminder for us of God’s great love for us, not just the bread at the Holy Communion, but the bread at our kitchen table, a reminder each day of God’s goodness and loving-kindness.
The taste of bread and the taste of wine: Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verse 28, “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. The wine would have brought many memories to those sat around that table. Jesus’ first miracle, at Cana in Galilee was a moment of great happiness, the wedding feast is made joyful by Jesus providing abundant supplies of fine wine. The taste of the wine would have recalled many happy moments of meals shared, of hospitality enjoyed, of Jesus talking among friends and welcoming the company of strangers.
The taste of wine can be a reminder of the fellowship that the disciples enjoyed with Jesus, a reminder of those happy moments and can make us think about our own lives. Are we at ease with the thought that God sits with us? Are we happy in chatting with friends in the knowledge that someone else is with us at the table? If we approached each meal with friends with the thought that it should be as if Jesus was one of the guests, how different would our meals be?
After the meal, they go to the garden of Gethsemane, where Judas leads the authorities to arrest Jesus. The scene becomes violent and the disciples fear that they themselves will be in danger, Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verse 56 says, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled”. Fear has often a physical taste, a metallic or acidic taste in the mouth and such a taste would have been strong at that moment. In the years that followed, the disciples would have had many moments when the taste of fear would have returned. Tradition says that John was the only one of the Twelve not to be executed. The taste of fear would have taken them back to the garden and the early hours of that Friday morning, and, knowing the Holy Spirit was with them, they would have been determined not to fail Jesus again.
We live safe and secure lives, fear is not an everyday factor for us, though it is very much an everyday reality for many Christians, but when we do taste fear have we a sense of the Holy Spirit with us? The disciples could face all things with the knowledge of the Spirit’s presence: we can face whatever might happen when we are sure the Spirit is with us.
The final taste we might think about is the taste of failure. For Peter, failure had a very physical taste, it was the taste of the salt from his tears. After he has denied Jesus three times, Saint Matthew Chapter 26 Verse 75 tells us, “he went out and wept bitterly”. Peter could be proud of those tears, they were a mark of how bad he felt about failing Jesus.
What about ourselves? How often do we fail Jesus? How often do we show such deep remorse for those failures that there might be taste of tears? Perhaps we do not have that depth of feeling, perhaps we do not feel as Peter felt, but if we do not, if we do not regret failing to be the people Jesus would want us to be, what does it say to us about our faith?
Taste reminds us and taste challenges us.