If you’ve ever cooked a meal for 75 people in a cramped kitchen, you know it can be a
chaotic process – at least it is when I’m doing it. There’s always a scramble to get things
done, last minute snafus, confusion about what should happen next – yet somehow, in the end, it seems to come together. Perhaps that’s a miracle in itself, like the loaves and the fishes.
We don’t have evidence in the gospels that Jesus did any cooking, though he did
manage to organize a meal for 5000 souls – with leftovers for the next day. His instructions that day to his disciples were, “ You give them something to eat,” which surely induced a moment of panic among them.
He has given his followers today the same instructions, and the paramount importance
of those instructions is apparent in the fact that on Sunday morning a meal for everyone
present is our central act of worship.
Why are there so many references to Jesus eating and drinking with others in the
gospel? It’s central to his concept of God’s kingdom: God’s feast of good things is already
prepared, God wants everyone – and particularly those most in need – to share in it.
Gathering people of whatever sort together to share a meal with them was, for Jesus, not
just a sign of God’s Kingdom but making the Kingdom real and present , of experiencing
God’s presence here and now. It was a practice of healing and nurturing and community
formation, and it was a promise of love and joy and hope.
I’ve engaged in a number of different kinds of ministries in my life as a priest –
preaching, teaching, healing, visiting, etc. – but none has been more important to me than
preparing food for others to enjoy together.
I’m presiding at a meal when I celebrate the Eucharist, which is usually a well ordered
event. But preparing a meal, from planning to shopping to prepping, to working at a hot
stove, is inevitably a kind of juggling act with an uncertain outcome, as any cook will tell
you. So I guess it’s not that different from all the other ministries of the church.
The Friday dinners are a critical ministry at Grace. When Hale McMahon helped begin
these dinners, I suspect he was relying on the observation that if you prepare good food
and offer it to people, they will come and eat. But if you’ve been to a Friday dinner you
know that it’s not just about the food. It is making real God’s Kingdom in this city, in people sharing and serving one another, in acknowledging and honoring both the humanity and the divine image in each person present, satisfying our hunger for both sustenance and relationship with others. It is hard not to have a sense of joy in that experience.
I never discussed theology with Hale. I don’t think I needed to: his dedication to the
Friday dinner was theology in action. It told you what you needed to know about his
character, his commitment to the service of others, his radical welcoming of all to God’s
When I make it to the heavenly banquet, with the angels, and the elders, and people
from every tribe and nation feasting on fat things full of marrow and well aged wine, my
plan is to head back to the kitchen, because the kitchen is always where the action is and
where people are usually having the most fun. I suspect I will find Jesus there, popping in to see that everything is okay. “Do you need any more wine, maybe?” he’ll ask.
And I’m thinking that’s where I’ll find Hale, making sure everyone has the supplies they
need, offering to run out to get something last minute, checking that the banquet is running smoothly, that there’s plenty of food for everyone, and that everyone feels welcome.
For him, as for all of us, the Feast is only just beginning.