I’m not much of a movie-goer but occasionally a film captures my imagination. Babette’s Feast, based on a 1958 story by Isak Dinesen, is near the top of the list.
In the film, a tiny, sectarian band of Christians on a remote Danish island have fallen on hard times. Bickering and animosity plague their relationships. The leaders of the community are two sisters, the daughters of the now-deceased founding pastor. Early in the film, they take in a bedraggled French woman (Babette) who had fled from Franco-Prussian violence in Paris, a violence that killed her husband and child.
Babette, it turns out, is a gourmet chef who once wowed Europe with her culinary creations at the famed Café Anglais. But in her exile, she becomes the chief cook and bottle-washer to the two sisters, reduced to making bland culinary fare to which the sisters are accustomed.
Years later, Babette discovers she has won a lottery in France, netting her a small fortune. But out of gratitude to the sisters and their community, she secretly decides to spend her entire winnings cooking a lavish dinner for everyone.
Through a comedy of errors, the sisters conclude something is amiss—perhaps even clandestine—about this feast, fears that are seemingly justified by the suspect ingredients that start to arrive in Babette’s kitchen: a live turtle, live quails, exotic mushrooms. The sisters love Babette and so take careful counsel with the entire congregation, which decides, out of love for Babette, to consume the multi-course feast while being careful not to engage in any self-indulgent merriment.
As you might expect, the food—and no small volume of alcohol—works its magic on the church members by evening’s end, and they somehow find their fractured fellowship restored, singing a doxology hand-in-hand under the stars.
It’s a remarkable story in which members of a faith community decided to sacrifice their personal scruples out of an ethic of love, and unity was the result. When the sisters learn that Babette spent her entire fortune out of her love for them, the circle of fellowship widens still more.
It’s a marvelous example of the Apostle Paul’s guidance to another community of faith years earlier. We’ll explore it this weekend. You can read it here.
We’ll also celebrate communion (I hope you’ll prepare at home!) and enjoy great music. If you (like almost everyone I know) are struggling to maintain balance between important convictions and precious relationships, this week’s sermon is for you.
Join us and invite a friend.