The Lord of Hosts’ Bounty in the Shire
And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted. [1 ]
Hobbits are no strangers to food and hospitality. Breakfast. Second breakfast. Elevensies. Lunch. Afternoon tea. Dinner/Supper. The only thing Hobbits love more than a good meal, is good company with whom they can share it. Whether it was an expected or an unexpected party, one is sure to find good food, ale, and a ready pipe wherever and whenever Hobbits open their round doors to guests. Hobbits are even renowned for giving away presents at their birthday parties instead of receiving them.
This is one of the details I enjoy every time I visit Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth. Even the ordinary, daily task of eating is written in such a way as to make you want to dive into the pages and raid Bilbo’s wine cellar, hork down a few of his cheese wheels and meat stores, and sit on the porch with a pipe-full of Longbottom Leaf. After all, eating and drinking is not merely a task to be accomplished, but a gift to delight in and savor. There’s a simple, yet powerful realism in the description of Hobbit meals and Elven lembas.
And yet, there’s more than good story telling involved in Tolkien’s use of food and hospitality. In one of Tolkien’s letters, he describes Elven lembas as having “a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a religious kind.” [2 ] I think he’s on to something. Food and hospitality are an integral part of life in Middle-earth, but also in our own lives. Give us this day our daily bread, we pray. And He does, more than a Hobbit could imagine. Luther says it this way: God has given me clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods. He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life. He does all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. [3 ]
What’s more, God’s daily bread is physical and spiritual. Food is integral to the life of God’s people as well: fruit in Eden, manna and quail in the wilderness, or water from the rock. Jesus changes ordinary water into a superb vintage. Jesus eats and drinks with sinners and tax collectors. And parable after parable Jesus reveals that the Kingdom of heaven is a gigantic wedding feast and God is the master Party-Planner.
God is the God of hospitality. Dionysus and Bacchus have nothing on Jesus; He alone embodies joy and grants us revelry in the pardon of sins. In Christ, God reveals Himself to be the greatest spend-thrift of all. The Father spares no expense for you. God offers up the Paschal Lamb, His Son, His only Son whom He loves. And so it is fitting for us to celebrate, for we who were lost are found in Jesus.
From His crucifixion we receive a feast of well-aged wine and rich food full of marrow. Jesus swallowed up death so you can taste and see that the Lord is good. Jesus is the host, waiter, and meal at the greatest feast in town: the Lord’s Supper. Give us this day our daily bread of life. And Jesus does, time and time again in His body and blood. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Rev. 19:9) God is our gracious host and Father, and we are His thankful and joyful guests and children. And thankful children can’t help but talk about how gracious and loving their Father is. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find. (Matt. 22:9)
In our Christian witness to the Gospel, the Hobbits teach us the art of being gracious hosts, generous givers, and abundant in our hospitality. As God is hospitable to us, so too, we show hospitality to others. As God cares for us in body and soul, so too, we care for our neighbor in body and soul. As God invites us to His banqueting table, so too, we invite those who hunger and thirst for righteousness to receive true satisfaction in Jesus’ Word and Supper. We’re beggars telling other beggars where to find the Bread of Life and the Living Water. Freely we are given, and freely we give!
[2 ] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, p. 275.
[3 ] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 328). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.