These Holy Meals that We Share
March 14, 2023
I love the church where I serve. I mean not all the time. There’s plenty of times a Jonah-thought crosses my mind: how a Tarshish life would be so much better than slogging along here in Nineveh. But, when my own mid-life frustrations pass, I wake up to find myself in an amazingly gracious gift: community.
This past week I sat with Mary Jane Jones for a lunch at Myer’s Market. Mary Jane and Brent Jones were one of the first couples I got to know at this church; Brent was eager and devoted as a deacon, and Mary Jane was one of my best helpers and advocates on the session team. When I first came here, Mary Jane would bring Sammi Jo to our elder meetings and send her over to the other side of our parlor with a Happy Meal and a coloring book. At the end of the meetings, after we finished our adult business, Sammi would reunite with us and hold our hands as we said the Lord’s Prayer. It was easily the most Christ-like thing we ever did in our session meetings: welcoming the child into our midst and praying together.
I’ve come to realize, in other words, that this whole church thing is often far less spectacular than I was told it was supposed to be or that I was supposed to make it. But, it intensely beautiful in all of its piece-meal-ness.
Mary Jane now shows up on Sundays without Sammi Jo since Sammi is off at college. But in Sammi’s absence, new connections have been built. Mary Jane is prone to bring along some eggs from the chickens back home in her coop, and lately the eggs have ended up in the hands of Laura and Levi, the amazing couple who lead us in our singing on Sunday mornings.
The Kingdom of God looks a bit like this: eggs shared and given on a Sunday morning.
And here I thought it was going to lead to far-off missions and huge youth groups.
When I first came here, I sort of shirked all the eating together business. It all seemed so outdated. We’ve had this tradition through the years of “fellowship time” after worship – the sort of hodge-podge where you might get everything from a simple plate of cheese and crackers to the splendid table of Pepperidge Farm cookies or home-baked goodies. The past year, we’ve added in a bunch of meals to our rhythms: potlucks and pitch-ins. And, the one thing I will tell you about the fellowship time and the potluck dinner is that they’ve absolutely held us together.
There aren’t a lot of spaces left in the world where you might end up sequestered with a complete stranger, but it’ll happen at a church potluck. By the time you set down your lemonade and plate of food, you’ve already made your commitment. For the next twenty minutes or so, you’ll either be locked in conversation with a young mom, that guy who totally rubs you the wrong way, or a geriatric grandma. And either way, Jesus is going to invite you to find a little bit of himself there in that person sitting next to you.
Here’s another thing: I think saints are born in the minutes leading up to a church pitch-in and in the minutes after everyone has cleared away.
I used to shirk the responsibilities of kitchen prep and kitchen clean-up like it was my job. Just ask my parents. They’ll tell you what a slouch I was as a youngster. Now, I realize that the godliness of men and women who come early to set up for meals and stick around long after is up there with Saint Clare and Brother Lawrence.
We’re blessed with a congregation with these hearts of gold. I sit there in our living room on Sundays watching The Chosen as folks bring stuff in for the fellowship time or lunches. This past Sunday, I just couldn’t help myself. I saw John and Pam Anderson lugging in their big tin foil dishes of pulled pork butt and knew I better get off my butt! I walked into the kitchen with them and helped set out a few things on the table. Lynette came in with her heaping bowl of cole slaw that would feed a small army. Heidi would bring her kale salad. Our guests would bring their hungry stomachs, and – later – our kids would double back to the dessert table five or six times, filling themselves with chocolate and sugar.
By the time it was all winding down, there it was: a whole kitchen to clean up, tables to be wiped down, and chairs to be put away. Every time, I swear Steve Thomas is there to help. I swear Steve Thomas has loaded more chairs than a big tent-revival volunteer. The same goes for Joe Ferguson. Now, Tom Standers and Tom Webb are gaining on them both.
Yes, that Tom Standers. The one who already spent about six hours this past week leading troop meetings here in town. He’s there picking up tables with me and stacking them on that rickety, old, four-wheel cart.
Jayne and Rita and Pam, meanwhile, did what I was loathe to even look at: that mountain of dishes and bowls waiting in the kitchen. Little by little, they got it all cleaned up. What started as a monumental effort in cleaning up after our feasting quickly became light work. It always goes so much faster than what I think it’s going to take. Community can do that. It can lighten the impossibly heavy-looking load.
I don’t know that there are any real miracles that occur during any of these meals. Earlier, when we were watching The Chosen in the living room, I had the chance to imagine what that would be like. It was the episode where Jesus just keeps on healing people and ends up feeding thousands out there on the open plain.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen that during a church meal. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone surprisingly freed of some ailment that has restricted their life. Although, I have been surprised to see what we all thought was going to be a meager collection of mashed potatoes, four other starch dishes and a ton of desserts become – wonderfully – a whole meal for a whole community.
But, I also saw this on Sunday. By the time I got ready to go, I did find a walker standing against a wall near the front doors. And I caught my breath for a second. Perhaps I had missed the healing after all!?
As it turned out, it was something just as beautiful and just as heart-warming. It was a family in our church passing along such a gift to another family who has started the journey of caring for an aging loved one.
Which is a pretty good summation of the type of holy miracles I see around here these days. Honest, hard-working folks who are so full of foibles, the same ones who tend to go both directions politically and who love each other nonetheless.
Yes, I would say I’ve seen miracles these past few years. Our people are still limping towards heaven, and our fellowship times are part of the big reason why. I would dare say they’ve even kept us together, one imperfect meal at a time.