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.”