August 29, 2014

The Grace Of The Feast

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and if I may be honest, it is perhaps my favorite holiday. It is devoid of the busy-ness of Christmas and the debauchery of New Year’s and the noise and sweat and plastic patriotism of July 4. I enjoy the time with family and friends and food without the trappings of gifts and the endless running from house to house.

“Ah!” but you say. “What about all of the work preparing the food?” That, for me, is one of the greatest parts of the day.

When I was but a wee iMonk living in Ohio, I would go to my aunt and uncle’s farm for Thanksgiving. I remember seeing my uncle and cousin sitting on the back porch, cleaning rabbits they had just shot and that would be, in a few hours, part of our meal. It was one of the first times I can recall that I connected what I was eating to where it came from. I was too young then to help in the kitchen, but I did get to help set up sawhorses and long planks of wood that served as tables. My cousin and I would then scour the farmhouse for every moveable chair and put them around the very long table we had just built. We would carry bowl after bowl of food from the kitchen down the stairs to where we would eat. And when the family was all seated, there would be a mild argument prior to saying grace as to how we would all pray the Lord’s Prayer that year—would we say “forgive us our trespasses” or “forgive us our debts”? And then we would eat and eat and eat. It was the most joyful meal of the year.

These days I don’t seem to spend much time in the kitchen. I work at a grocery store with an in-house deli that prepares incredible pot pies, soups, bierocks (which contain neither beer nor rocks), salads and pastries. I find myself eating what others have prepared much more than what I have prepared. And while delicious, there is a loss in eating what I have not had some hand in preparing.

Which brings us to the topic of grace. The grace of God is the most incredible feast of forgiveness (of both debts and trespasses) imaginable. It is steaming bowls of mercy and laden plates of unmerited favor with the King of Kings. The table has been built—one long table with a lot of mismatched chairs on either side. And seated at this table are sinners, murderers, teachers, thieves, farmers, whores, saints, gamblers, singers, drug dealers, pastors, used car salesmen, cooks, dishwashers, cripples … and me, who is worse than all of the above. We all sit down together to eat a magnificent feast that we did nothing to prepare. We did not grow the food, nor hunt it, nor clean it. We didn’t cook or bake or even boil the water. We were simply invited to come and dine.

None of us were counting on such a meal. We were all in the highways and byways of life when servants of the Master of the Feast were sent to bring us in.

“But I have no money,” we each said.

“Come, you who have no money,” is the reply. “Come and eat and drink to your fill.”

“But I have nothing to wear to such a feast,” we complained.

“You will exchange your filthy rags for pure white robes that are yours to keep,” he says.

“May I at least help with the cooking or cleaning up afterward? I want to do my share.”

“No,” he says. “That is the one thing you may not—must not—do. You have only one part in this feast, and that is to enjoy it endlessly. The Lamb has been slain. Now you must eat.”

This is so difficult for us. For me. I want to do my share. I want to live a better life and stop doing wrong so that I can deserve what I’m eating. I want to clean myself up to be presentable (more presentable than the homeless man next to me and the prostitute across from me.) I don’t want to just be served. I’m not a charity case, after all.

But I am. I am the world’s worst sinner. I am penniless and my clothes stink and are stained with sin and guilt. I could see me being allowed to come close to the house, maybe clean up the rabbit guts outside. But to be invited in? To sit at the King’s table and eat his Son whom he has slain since the foundation of the world? No. I am not worth that. Let me go back to the barn to muck out the stalls.

“Come. Dine. Eat to your heart’s content. It has been prepared just for you.”

Why oh why is grace so hard to receive? Why do I insist on trying to earn what is free for the taking?

Tomorrow I will sit with family and friends and, for the first time in a long time, eat food I did not help prepare. I’ve been invited to come and dine without having to do any of the work. That will be a struggle for me, to be honest. Just as grace is a struggle for me. I will think of the Lamb and of his Father who says to me over and over, “Come and dine.”

Comments

  1. This post reminds me of George Herbert’s poem:

    LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.

    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’

    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all in the U.S.A.!

    • Happy Thanksgiving to those in Ireland, too, Martha! Do you have anything like this over there? I notice the Canadians have adopted it.

      I lugged home a 12-pack of Guinness to add to the meal. So I’ll be thinking of you as I open one.

      • We have St. Patrick’s Day and that’s about it (even the commemoration of the founding of the modern republic is a matter of some sensitivity, what with the Troubles). We are facing into what has been called ‘the Decade of Commemorations’ which is going to be fun (she said ironically) – we’ve kicked off with the centenary of the 1912 introduction of the Home Rule Bill for Ireland, which was followed by the 1912 Ulster Covenant in protest against Home Rule, where they consciously invoked the Scottish Covenanters who aligned with the English Parliament and the Puritans in the English Civil War of the 17th century.

        Considering forthcoming historical events will be the centenary of the Great War, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War – oh, it’ll be a fun, fun decade!

        We should have some kind of national day for thanksgiving, but really with the state the economy is in, we’re only thankful our government has not yet announced plans to raise revenue by introducing a tax on breathing.

        :-)

      • Thanks, Martha. A mere 21 years ago marked my first (and only) time I found myself in a country (Ireland) that wasn’t celebrating Thanksgiving. The thing I remember most was an editorial in the Irish Times that described pumpkin pie as “bringing new meaning to the word ‘blandness’.” Is this still the general, and presumably uninformed, opinion? Pumpkin pie is the crown of glory waiting at the end of the feast as far as I’m concerned. And I am concerned.

        I should have done the Guiness thing, like Ted, but alas, it will be Sam Adams instead. Happy T’giving to the good folks of Maine, too.

        • Trevis, I couldn’t find any seasonal samplers of Sam Adams so I went with the Guinness and a sampler of Peaks’ Organic, a brewery in Portland, Maine. Our daughters are beer snobs. I don’t know where they got that. I only spoon-fed them coffee when they were little. Have a great holiday.

      • Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day (2nd Monday in October), and does not really commemorate a specific historical event. There is, however, football.

  2. Wonderful post–Happy Thanksgiving to all I-Monk followers.

  3. This also makes me think that some “must viewing” each and every Thanksgiving should be the wonderful foreign film “Babette’s Feast,” a film ultimately about divine grace.

  4. You say debauchery like its a bad thing. And I’m thinking new years in Oklahoma must be a little livelier than it usually is in Chicago (maybe the weather–it’s hard to get too enthusiastic about debauchery when its usually 0F or colder outside).

  5. Richard McNeeley says:

    This is the first year that 2 of our children will not be home for Thanksgiving. Our youngest son is in San Antonio with friends and our daughter is in Oklahoma City, both a long way from Arizona. Gail and I will prepare a meal for ourselves and my in-laws, later we will drive to our oldest son’s home for dessert. While it will be a joyous time we have mixed emotions knowing that this is the first year that everyone won’t be home.

  6. Plastic patriotism? I like that description.

    Enjoyed the post too, Jeff.

  7. Thanks, Jeff, for a graceful post! Why is it so hard to receive that which is free? Why is it so difficult to “Come and dine?” Even when we, as children, submit to God’s grace, it is typically enjoyed for a mere season, only until our self-determined, sin-laden will decides it wants to shine with power once again. We rise from the Lord’s Table to go hunt our own game again. Alas, grace watches us grab our guns and walk through the door, knowing we must return or we are doomed.

  8. I love the idea behind Thanksgiving, but I’ve never liked the food very much (I don’t mind if I never eat turkey again, and I never liked stuff like cranberries, fruit salad, or potatoes in the first place.) Now that I live in Japan, I’ll enjoy myself on this Thanksgiving night by going to my favorite restaurant and celebrating, Japanese-food style.

  9. Our problem with grace? Well, that Turkey’s feast before thanksgiving probably seemed like grace, until it found out it was merely being fattened before becoming the main course. The Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man” comes to mind. The Piper god sends down earthquakes and hurricanes as punishment innocent children for who knows what, so anything is possible.

    • There have been too many years of revivalists preaching law-after-grace. Everyone waits for the other shoe to drop.

  10. Happy Thanksgiving Jeff, all the writers and iMonkers!

  11. Wonderful post and so full of the message of grace and thanks. I love the parable of the banquet and the way it erases any spiritual pretense we might be inclined toward. Thanks for sharing this. Happy thanksgiving to all, and may we all be blessed with a constant gratitude that takes nothing for granted.

  12. Beautiful post, Jeff. May your Thanksgiving be grateful and grace-filled.

  13. Great and timely post!

    Speaking only for myself, I think that it is hard to receive grace, from the Father or our fellow humans, because it shows beyond a doubt that we are NOT the super-special, better-than-the-crowd superior humans that our ego likes to pretend we are. It is much easier for me to be the slightly-smug benefactor than the wretch who needs be helped in some way. It takes a lot for me to shed my coat of “specialness”.

  14. Marcus Johnson says:

    I just put my sweet potato pie in the oven, and now it’s time for coffee and reading before the other cooking stuff has to happen. Thanks to Jeff Dunn’s post last week, I’m probably going to be re-reading the book of Mark.

    Happy Thanksgiving, iMonk followers!