Babette’s Feast

by Melissa Florer-Bixler
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.

It seemed fitting to me that we began our year of exploration and reflection on Communion practice in grace. Babette’s Feast, the first in our film series featuring movies about food and faith, is a story about grace received in a meal. It works around the tensions of mercy and commitment, of righteousness and joy, of holiness and pleasure.

In the story a young woman arrives on the shores of a small Danish fishing village. We discover that she is a refugee escaping civil war in France. She becomes the devoted servant of two elderly sisters, who in their youth, each gave up a chance at love and happiness – one through marriage the other through a singing career – in order to serve the ministry of their father, the leader of a Dutch Calvinist sect. Through a series of events, we can call them grace or chance, Babette comes into the sisters’ lives.

In the background of the film are the themes of regret and choice. How do we make choices and what do we do when we look back on regret at what we have done in our lives? Each of the characters faces these questions.

The apex of the film is a French meal cooked by Babette. We come to discover that in her previous life in France she was a celebrated chef. She wins the lottery and instead of spending the money to return to her life in France, as the sisters expect with sadness will be the result, she spends the entire sum, 10,000 francs, on a celebration meal for the remaining apostles of the sect.

The meal is grace. It is beauty and pleasure, righteousness and mercy kissing one another. Old hurts are overcome. Love that has been shamed is brought into the open. Regrets are lost in the hope and possibility of God’s constant provision, even when it is least expected.

The next day when we celebrated Communion as a church I had this scene in the back of my mind. The excess and abundance of Babette’s meal, her gratuitous and unmerited gift. 

During the meal the captain, the would-be-lover of the older sister, who returned to see her once more in his old age, offers a speech. While it doesn’t capture the beauty and pleasure of the meal, the color and scent and taste that waft from the screen, it puts to words the grace that flows through the meal, a grace and joy I hope will infuse itself into our church’s practice of the Lord’s Supper:

Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! that which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Ay, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For mercy and truth have met together and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!

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