Last night we had our annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper at Hickory Neck Episcopal Church. In some ways, the evening was just like every other year: pancakes, sausage, and cake were in abundance, people donned their beads, and festive music was in the air. But this year there was one big difference. We shared the evening with some special guests. You see, we signed up to host a week of our community’s emergency winter shelter – but without checking the liturgical calendar. So, we had two options – invite our guests to join us, or find an alternate location for our festivities. The decision was not an easy one. We talked for months about the theology of hospitality and service. We talked about the realities of life for our guests, who are often tired and usually want to get some sleep as soon as possible. We talked about privacy, fellowship, and discomfort. In the end, we decided sharing the evening was the most authentic, hospitable way forward, not being entirely sure how the evening would go.
In my mind the evening had two potential outcomes. The first one I imagined was of a typical middle school dance – the girls on one side of the room and the boys on the other, neither being bold enough to get out there and dance. I worried that our guests would feel awkward or put on the spot to socialize. I worried that our parishioners would feel uncomfortable and would avoid contact with our guests. The other outcome I imagined was a profound evening, where guests and parishioners would mingle with ease, where deep conversations would be had, and where God would be palpably present. In that scenario, we would see God in the faces of each other, and we would be deeply transformed.
The reality of the evening was neither of my scenarios came to fruition. Luckily, no one behaved awkwardly or made anyone feel uncomfortable. But there was also not a sense of deep transformation last night. Instead, the evening was simple, authentic, and real. Some of the guests and parishioners kept to themselves or stuck with those like them. Some of the guests and parishioners shared in conversation over the feast. Children played with parishioners and guests alike, serving as a great equalizer. Jokes and laughter were shared, a meal was had in relaxed community, and the evening ended with the goodbyes of old friends. The only thing profound about the evening was that it was profoundly normal.
As I reflect back, I suppose that is the best outcome we could have had. Jesus sat with all sorts of people over meals, not necessarily to have contrived, poignant encounters, but to serve as an equalizer with people who were not treated equally. Jesus knew the power of food to move people toward honoring the dignity of every human being. That is what we did last night. We had fun, we feasted until we could feast no more, and we honored our baptismal covenant by seeking and serving Christ in every person, loving our neighbor as our self, and respecting the dignity of other human beings. Not bad for a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper!