My latest column for Christian Courier – it can also be found on the website, here.
Breakfast is a big deal here in Montreal, and breakfast restaurants are a point of pride for us. There is Eggspectation and Allo! mon coco and, of course, the classic Chez Cora. In fact, it’s just possible that Chez Cora is one of Quebec’s best-loved exports—ranking up there with maple syrup, Oka cheese and Cirque de Soleil. The success of that restaurant means you can now sample Cora Tsouflidou’s menu from St. John’s to Victoria.
At the same time, if you want to experience peak-breakfast in Montreal these days you’ll have to check out Restaurant L’Avenue in the trendy Pleateau district—there is almost always a line-up, so you’ll have to wait patiently before sampling their watermelon water or indulging in a brilliant breakfast burrito.
While it is true that Montreal has some of the best breakfast spots you can imagine, my own most memorable breakfast wasn’t served up in this city. Rather, it was served up sixteen years ago during a visit to The Gambia, West Africa. Earlier in her life my wife had directed a nurses training school there, and in 2001 we were back for a visit with friends and former students. The breakfast I’m remembering was prepared by Christiana, a former student of my wife. It consisted of baguette and baked fish. She had woken early that morning to prepare the meal for us as a send-off on our continued travels.
Now I should say that baked fish was not my first choice that morning. The combination of a crash course in West African cuisine, and the nauseating effects of anti-malaria medication meant there were plenty of other options I would have chosen before bread and fish. So the breakfast was memorable, in part, because eating it took a fair bit of effort.
But that breakfast is also fixed in my mind because it represented such generosity and grace. Christiana had gotten up early that morning to prepare something special for us. It was an act of warm hospitality, ensuring we were well-prepared for a day of travel. Christiana was also one of the few Christian students my wife Rebecca had taught in The Gambia (a country that is 90% Muslim)—so she was not only a former student but also a friend and sister in Christ, and one whose love for us was embodied in that baked fish and fresh bread.
That Gambian breakfast was not, seasonally speaking, an Easter breakfast. Yet it was evocative of the most important breakfast in the Christian tradition – the Easter breakfast of Jesus and his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The disciples of Jesus had been out fishing for the night and were likely exhausted—and more than a little frustrated since they had caught no fish. As they came to shore, Jesus was waiting for them on the beach—he was tending a fire on the shoreline, preparing breakfast for them. Their risen master (after demonstrating his grace by providing a nice haul of fish!) offered them a breakfast of fresh baked fish and bread. Gathered around that charcoal fire, Jesus’ words and actions hint at the Eucharistic celebration—“Jesus took the bread, and gave it to them.” Love embodied in fish and bread.
Are we surprised to learn that in the context of this sea-side, Easter breakfast the conversation also turns toward love and forgiveness? Three times Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him, three times Peter affirms his love, and three times Jesus invites Peter to provide compassionate leadership to those who follow him: “Feed my sheep.” And finally, to Peter, a simple “follow me.” All our past betrayals and failures are set behind God’s back (forgotten) and we are invited to join the mission of God in freedom. To serve one another with joy and thanksgiving.
Each of our breakfasts can become an Easter breakfast—or, is an Easter breakfast—for those who belong to Jesus. Whether around a campfire, or at a trendy restaurant; whether in a place that feels foreign or in a place of real comfort, our breakfast can become God’s table in the world. A place where Jesus’ love and grace are spoken and lived, and where we are nourished for life together in the mission of God.