There has been a lot of ink spilled trying to nail down the Kingdom of God. (multivalent pun alert) Used by Jesus as a term for something that is at hand and to come in the future, it is here and there both spatially and temporally. I do not want to try to map out what it is and means because it can mean many things and has been used to justify a heap of things, both good and bad. What interests me is a way to picture what an encounter with the Kingdom is like.
The Kingdom of God is an amuse bouche.
Wait. What? Why? Why would I choose a metaphor associated with a privileged elaborate Western culinary experience? Because I need to own my own context, and since you are reading this on a computer and in English there is a good chance you share a lot of those same privileges. And again, this is not an effort to describe how we should act in the Kingdom, class structure in the Kingdom, ecological concern in the kingdom, etc. It is how we should understand our experience of the Kingdom. Consider the following:
Our understanding of it is based on what we know is to come
What makes an amuse different than an hors d’oeuvre (lit. outside the main work) is its connection to the main event. Maybe you have been to one of those receptions where a few trays of food get passed, and you leave immediately afterwards to go get pizza because two tiny spring rolls do not a meal make. The amuse makes us look forward (temporally) and anticipate (usually through intense salivation) what is coming
It testifies to the intentions and skill of the chef
If every flavour is balanced, and the amuse is technically impressive, you are probably in for a great meal. If it looks like it came out of a grocery store freezer box labeled “appetizer medley” you might be at Boston Pizza.
The amuse-bouche delights us but does not satisfy us
Somewhat like point one, the important distinction is that the amuse does not just make us think about its place in the larger framework of the meal, it also bends our desires forward. We are turned on to the experience of eating and are made conscious of a longing we did not know was there.
It lingers on your tongue
An amuse is not a palate cleanser (like an intermezzo usually is). When done right, they are so small they are eaten quickly, yet so rich that they are not done. More time is spent in reflection on what you ate than actually eating.
It is best experienced in the company of others
Partly because the experience is so fleeting, the best way to prolong the experience of an amuse is to watch others eat it, then to talk about it. “What did you think?” “How did they do that?” “Your eyes rolled back into your head!” You are not face down in a plate of food trying to debone a bird or trying to hide a piece of gristle in your napkin. And since the amuse for the night at a restaurant is the same for everyone, you can watch as new patrons come in, already “wise” from your earlier experience of it and watch knowingly as others encounter the wonder of the moment.
There are probably more levels of meaning in the event, and the function of the Eucharist as the great amuse-bouche is obvious, but like any good parabolic teaching, this is best left unfinished. That way there is room to reflect on the delight and yearn for the meal to come.