What an awesome juxtaposition of the readings this week! On one hand, we have Mark’s version of the feeding of the multitude–at least 4000 hungry people, seven loaves, and a few small fish–and Jesus’ answer is “feed them.” Yet, in our Epistle, Paul tells us, So then, my brothers and sisters,* when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation.
So which is it? “Let’s eat?” or “Wait!”
I couldn’t help but think of that great scene from Barry Levinson’s 1990 film, Avalon, and what happens when the main character in the story, Sam, after years of his brother Gabriel being chronically late for Thanksgiving dinner, finally relents and allows the turkey to be cut before Gabriel arrives. When Gabriel and his wife arrive, he’s furious that the family has cut the turkey without him. This, coupled with the fact that the dinner is at Sam’s son Jules’ house way out in the suburbs, not at one of the family row houses in Baltimore, becomes a rift from which the family never quite recovers.
Sam tries to smooth things over by saying that the young ones were hungry. Gabriel counters that there will always be young ones, and the tradition in the family is that no one cuts the turkey till the last relative shows up. We are left to ponder whether the slight was real or imagined–all the same the effect on the family is real. (It’s also a slight that can now mostly be avoided in the 21st century, thanks to cell phones, but it can still happen.)
As it turns out, though, perhaps this 1950’s dilemma is a great thing to ponder during Lent in 2016. As Christians, we are called to feed people. At the same time, as Christians we are called to invite everyone to the table we possibly can, and if need be, wait for them, and delay “cutting the turkey” as long as we can. Perhaps that’s why we place the Eucharist in the second half of the service. If the dog threw up, if the car wouldn’t start and had to be jumped, if the youngest child refuses to wear clothes, there’s still a fighting chance a person with a bad day can still make the Eucharist.
When we look back at the missional things we do in our communities, how many times does the most amazing encounter happen when we drag our feet and didn’t quite end the activity at the appointed time? How many times is it that the most amazing donation happens at the end of the food drive, or the family who really needed a meal showed up when the pancake supper was over, and we fed them anyway, and filled their tank with gas when we heard their story? Chances are, many of you who are reading this can tell a story of “the most amazing thing that happened, just when we were packing up to leave.”
As we ponder our lives and ministries in the spirit of slowing down during Lent, how might each of us hold off cutting the turkey as long as we can? How might we recognize those God sends to us, who could use a few bites of turkey?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: from Avalon