This past weekend, St. Peter's accomplished something it had been talking and wondering about for over a year. We had a pig roast. It was a practice run on an idea for a parish fundraiser. The dream is to welcome the community to table with an event that feeds folks and that gives them a sense that there is a vital church here at the corner of Main and Devoe in Spotswood, albeit one that is obscured behind locust trees for the greener parts of the year.
So, after much talk, we committed to having a pig roast/parish picnic. Preparing for the feast meant borrowing a roaster, obtaining a pig from a good supplier and then assembling the folk who would cook and prepare it. Here are some thoughts flowing from that day:
Called to the Feast
Do you like to feast? I am not just writing about the enjoyment of eating (or in my case, too often, over-eating). I am talking about feasting. That means making plans, setting aside time, getting people together and putting on a meal that is special. It means a celebration of abundance. It means setting down, at least for a time, the distractions that too often invade our eating-time. Those distractions are often enough to make us wonder, staring down at an empty plate after the meal is done, if we even tasted what was before us.
Feasting means thanksgiving. It means tasting food, enjoying company and allowing each to fill us up. It means letting bygones really be bygones. It means accepting the present and not worrying (again, at least for a moment) about the future. Feasting means being grateful for the here, the now and for what is at hand before us.
A feast can be a whole hog, roasted and dressed with all the sides.
It can also be just a slice of bread, toasted with some butter on it.
The only essential aspect of being a person involved in the feast? A willing heart and an open spirit.
The older I grow in this art of being a pastor, the more I realize that if we are to truly follow the Christ in this life we have to be willing to be people who feast with open abandon. I am not endorsing excess. Actually, I am endorsing the opposite: a mindful enjoyment to satiety of the abundant life we know in this life even as we anticipate the next. As a pastor, I have sat bedside with a person taking her first bite of food, who because of kidney failure had not eaten in weeks, remarked that she had not had bread that good since she had left the concentration camps at the end of the war....and it was one of those slices of square, white, spongy, tasteless bread with yellowed oleo on it. In that moment...it was a feast worthy of the ages.
It's not how much is on the feasting table that defines abundance...it is our posture toward it.
- On my family's table at one Thanksgiving feast of memory (when I was five or six), I remember a ham, a turkey, six kinds of potato salad, macaroni and cheese, green salad, fruit salad and multiple selections of pies. I don't remember eating the food...what I do remember is that it was one time when the WHOLE family was together, extended across several generation and drawing together in-laws as well as blood...and even a few friends of the family. What mattered was that everyone was there. The food was a blur, but the faces stand out in my memory as clear and sharp as diamonds.
- Every year, twice a year, I meet with a group of clergy colleagues. Over the years, the nine of us have become brothers in vocation and in life. We feast twice during these times apart: one is at a restaurant and the other is one that we cook together. What I love about eating with them is that no matter where we are, there is a feeling of spirit, of grace, and (when we are out in the world) the knowledge that anyone approaching the table we are at (from server to fellow diner) is liable to be drawn into the celebration...and to go home with a story about this remarkable group of priests they met.
- Over the years of being a part of my wife's family (she is one of 10 (and spouses), with 18 nieces and nephews (and spouses and significant others) and 8 great-nieces and great-nephews), I have been honored to be a part of "family get-togethers" that entail coordinating a sit-down dinner for anywhere from 40-60 people. You know...just the immediate family! The laughter, glory, joy, bathos and pathos flow in abundance.
- Each week (50 times a year at the least), at my church, a dedicated group of volunteers serves a meal to anywhere from 75-100 people. They come from all walks of life. They come with every story and background that you can imagine. They come needing food. They come needing fellowship. They come because this is their only chance to get out and be with people apart from work. They come and are fed....as much with fellowship and company as with food.
What makes these moments feasts? They are feasts because for just a moment the people participating in them are no where else than right there and no when else that fully present in the "right now."
As I reflect on those feasts that I am honored to participate in, and upon the feast our parish just shared over the roasting of a pig....I am aware that as people of faith in Christ, our essence is embodied in feasting. We do it everytime we break the bread and lift the cup. We share it everytime we make Eucharist....
....and all of it is in training for what is to come in God's Kingdom. Each feast we mark and give thanks for in this life is only a foretaste of the banquet prepared for us from the beginning of time that is waiting on our arrival.
Our job now? To recognize, bless and share in the abundance of the feast we have here, today. When we do that, when we practice that faithfully, we will be able to recognize it in the age to come.....be it revealed even in a simple slice of stale bread. A feast is a feast if we see God revealed in it and in each other.
May our eyes and hearts be open to seeing that blessing.