I had a church member in a small, country church named Helen who made the best Sour Cream Pound Cake. Everyone agreed, too. We would have pot-luck dinners and cake auctions and fundraisers for the local volunteer fire department, and Helen always had the best pound cake. From all over, people would ask her how to make it, and she would very willingly give them the recipe, but as hard and as often as people tried, they could not replicate her Sour Cream Pound Cake. I asked her once why that was, she said it was because she separated the eggs when that was not explicitly stated in the recipe, but I suspect it is because she used very specific ingredients and measurements that cannot be taught. Instead, it takes years of practice, infinite patience, and most importantly, a deep love of those for whom she made it.
She would make this pound cake for her family when they would come together for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She would make it for her grandkids when they were sick. She would make it for her husband for Valentine’s Day and his birthday. She expressed her love through cooking, and no one could ever make things the way she could.
You probably have these same recipes. Some of them may be stuck up in your cabinets right now, but as try as you might, you just cannot make it the way grandmama used to make it. In my family, it is chocolate chip cookies. A few have come close, but no one has ever gotten it quite right.
The expression of love through cooking is one of the main themes of a Danish film by the name of Babette’s Feast. In that film, a woman who shows up at a small remote village is taken in. The townspeople are pietists, a religious group that does not indulge in anything. Their days are made up of hard work, stark houses, and small meals. Babette shows up and they take care of her out of Christian hospitality. To repay them, she says she wants to cook dinner for them. Soon, all kinds of exotic ingredients begin showing up in this small village. The townspeople see them and have a crisis of conscience because they are pietists! So, they have a town meeting, and the minister leads it, and they all decide they will eat what is offered to them, but they will not enjoy it.
The day of the dinner arrives, and the table looks beautiful, more beautiful than anything they had ever seen. They begin to taste the food, and it is the most delicious food they have ever tasted. They are overcome with how good it is and soon begin enjoying it and one another, whereas before they were silent and gruff. Laughter reverberates around the table and everything in the town comes back to life. It turns out that Babette is a famous chef in one of the best restaurants in the world, and so her gift to them is not an ordinary gift, but it is the gift of love to those who took her in.
In 1 Peter, the writer says that the outside world looks at followers of Christ and remarks, “see how they love one another!” I think we should remember all of those small ways people show love for us. Through cooking, making things, playing with us. They offered a part of themselves so that the expression of love can go beyond mere words. That is how God expresses God’s love to us, and we are called to do the same.