Thursday, September 25, 2014

One from the Hearth: Ode to a Pig Roast, or Preparing the Feast

I confess that I love a good feast. More than a dinner, a feast is a festival and celebration of life and community. It's about gathering people together, stopping the clocks that govern our lives and breaking bread with intention to be together, enjoy each others' company and let the day just be. Growing up where and when I did, feasting meant gathering on holidays and at the marking of life's passages (baptisms, graduations, wedding and funerals). It meant roasts...roasted turkeys, hams and joints of beef. On big holidays, you might see some of each at the table. Coming from an Anglo-Germanic background, it meant a plethora of potato salads and more variations on jello salad with "things" in them than you could possible imagine. It meant serious eating...and we weren't complete until everyone could only just manage a couple of slices of pie or dishes of ice cream to top the meal off....until it was time to get the left-overs out for sandwiches in the evening.

This feasting was not excess for its own sake. It was a way of marking the abundance of blessings the family and community knew in its gathering. It was a way to be all in one place, all at once. It was a way to gather disparate elements of "us" into "one" and then laugh, reminisce and reconnect. 

I still remember how, at the various funerals for my grandparents, the WHOLE family gathered and with the support of family set up a feast that was both an affirmation of the life we were sharing and a promise of the banquet we knew our beloved departed were enjoying the in the presence of God in Christ. 

Feasting is a way to remind ourselves that not all of life is about achieving and fact, no small part of life is also about being with each other. United in preparation, gathered in celebration and reflective in conclusion, feasting is an intrinsic part of being a community in Christ. It takes communion seriously, and as sacramental an act as the celebration is at the altar of God, feasting translates that grace out into the midst of a wider community. 

Feasting is more than a party. It is a service, a joy and a way to knit a community that is too often fractured and divided by time, stress and worry into one, blessed whole.

Two pigs in a cooler, marinating and rubbed down with spices

And so, with that in mind, I pause to reflect on our recent effort at feasting at St. Peter's: For two years, we have been in the process of discerning how we might reach out into the community of Spotswood and welcome our neighbors to a feast. We called it a fundraiser, and it was; but it was also much more. It has been a reminder that we actually do enjoy serving alongside each other beyond Sunday mornings. It remined us of our connection to the various portions of our wider community with which we engage in mission and outreach. On top of that, we get to make sure people get fed and feel a little of that foretaste of the kingdom I alluded to above.

Two pigs were roasted by caring hands. Sides were prepared in advance so the kitchen volunteers can assemble plates to offer our guests that are worth the price of admission. Logistics made plans where people would sit,and where our volunteers could work safely. Entertainments were provided to help get folks into a celebratory mood. Donors and volunteers assembled raffle baskets, whose awarding sent people home with prizes. People worked hard for long hours, and the net result was a feast that from the outset gave people a sense of welcome, comfort, grace.

The fires are lit
The cookers are fed
I was one of the cookers. The idea for the roast came from a friend's brother who had prepared a roasted pig for a group of us several years ago. Placing the pigs in the cooker meant just about 20 hours of time together. We worked, ate, sat, talked, cooked and did chores in preparation for the feast. People texted us and noted on social media that they could smell the pigs cooking up to a half mile away. They dropped by to visit and see how things were progressing. There was a great sense of anticipation, like the prelude to a liturgy, or the overture to a night of theater. As the scent of roasting meat filled the town, most caught wind that something remarkable was happening in their midst.

The morning of...with the sunrise
 Then came a quiet time on Saturday in the morning. Just myself and the warden, the second pig was in the cooker and the early sun wasn't even visible above the tree tops. It was the time before the feast. We enjoyed a sacramental coffee, and waited for our fellow cookers to show. Again, that image of feasting rises with an awareness that something is about to happen. People appeared throughout the day in order to prepare their portion of the feast, and slowly the event took shape. From the quiet of the morning to the chorus of people hard at work, we saw it all unfold throughout the hours of the day. It was glorious. God be praised. 

I got the chance to move around and greet people as they arrived, and gave thanks for the opportunity to participate with my community in preparing and serving a feast. It's why we are here, really. To be that community of celebration that uses service and hospitality to remind people that God intends for us all to find union and communion in the life eternal granted to us through Christ.

A 360 degree view of the feast in full swing

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