A Grand Dinner Party: God's Movable Feast


We stood in Mrs. Trieschmann's kitchen. Martha was in charge of seasoning the chicken. I was on green bean duty. It was the spring of our junior year of high school, and we decided to throw a dinner party. All of our friends were invited and we were giddy with anticipation. The table was set with Mrs. Trieschmann's finest china and delicate crystal. Flowers from the yard, in beautiful Georgia bloom, had been arranged; and we had even employed Martha's younger sister, Catherine, to be our server for the night. All that remained was the guests' arrival and the plating of the meal. Guiding us along the way, helping us and teaching us as we went, was Martha's mom, Mrs. Trieschmann, who was and forever will be in my mind a cross between Martha Stewart and Donna Reed. Mrs. Trieschmann helped us, not hovering, but rather offering guidance and direction when we needed it, making space for us to learn and giving us a map for how to make this meal something other than every day, how to make it extraordinary.

I think back to that time in her kitchen. Mrs. Trieschmann was teaching us about how generous hospitality, both given and received, is one of life's greatest gifts. Over the years I've come to understand that generous hospitality, that dinner parties, are also at the core of our Christian faith. Sharing food, sharing bread, sharing with one another, all of this is at the heart of what Jesus taught and how we, as a Church, have been charged to respond.

Take a look at the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. It tells a story of Jesus, his friends, and some folks who are following him along the way. Jesus really likes food and hosting extraordinary dinner parties. And not just food for food's sake, but food for all that food connotes: nourishment, community, knowledge, security, life. John's sixth chapter begins with a boy generously sharing his five barley loaves and two fish with Jesus, who turns around and creates of a grand dinner party. The party is put together with very little planning, welcomes over 5000 guests, all of whom eat until they are as full as ticks, and leaves behind enough leftovers to fill 12 baskets. And we know it must have been a good party because the impressed dinner party guests come back the very next day, wanting more of this hospitality, seeking to start the party all over again. Jesus, the consummate host, continues the dinner party in a new way, teaching them about food that is beyond that of earthly food. He tells them about a new bread, a bread that feeds and leads to something greater than their wildest yearnings and imaginings. This is bread that will give life for the world. Wanting this bread, the guests ask, "How do we get it?" Jesus responds saying, "I am the bread of life."

It is, of course, a revelation. Jesus is showing us who he is, what he is. He is the stuff of eternal life; he is what will fill our deepest hunger. Our ears hear it today and know Jesus as the bread of heaven, the bread that feeds us still in the Eucharistic feast, the bread that sustains us for our journey. I suspect his choice of metaphor is not arbitrary. Jesus reveals himself to be the very thing that makes the everyday holy, that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

This is nothing new, for as the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Yet, in this revelation, in this revealing, we are able to see. In this revelation, in this revealing, we experience what is holy in a new way. It is in the ordinary, everyday things that Jesus reveals himself so that we might see and know the fullness of God. It is in the simplest elements of bread and wine, flesh and blood that God comes to dwell on our earth and feed us with his presence.

If we begin to look around us, we will see these places abounding in our lives. Places where God has come to dwell in our midst, places where the grandeur of God is revealed in the everyday, places where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

One of the joys of being part of the parish I serve is participating in a phenomenal feeding program, Malachi's Storehouse. Malachi's started over 20 years ago at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Atlanta, and it continues to grow and evolve. Today it feeds 130-150 people every week, with the clear mission: everyone is welcomed, everyone is valued, everyone is fed. Each week at Malachi's starts with a dinner party--a hot lunch of rich foods served to every single guest that enters. Each guest leaves with a full belly and groceries for their families, enough to last two weeks. The Nave or Sanctuary of St. Patrick's, the same place where we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, becomes a place of hospitality, where guests can come in from the cold of winter or the heat of summer and relax, offer or receive prayer if they wish, talk with friends they've met or simply be. Our parish hall becomes a huge grocery store, flowing with beautiful produce, pantry staples, and even occasional bouquets of fresh flowers. Every Wednesday you can smell the Gospel in the air, and you can taste and see the Goodness of God.

Malachi's exists because at the heart of our Christian story is this invitation to be part of the dinner party. We are invited to come and be fed, not only with physical bread, but with the Bread of God. We gather week after week around the Eucharistic table where we are invited to the most gracious of dinner parties. We are welcomed and fed with the Bread of Life, fed with the Living God, by the Abundant God. And something happens. We are changed. When we are fed with lavish food like this, week in and week out, we are changed.

A few months back, the state of Georgia in its typical response to threat of snow and ice, found itself worried about the weather. "Stay home," cried all the weather forecasters. As a result, there were significantly fewer guests at Malachi's that week. We wondered what to do with all the extra food. We obviously didn't want it to go to waste. The answer was abundantly clear. The volunteers, many of them Malachi's guests who have come to care for the community so much that they choose to serve here every week, the volunteers sent home the guests with double the normal groceries. "Go out," they said, "and offer the extra as a gift to your neighbor, or anyone who might have need." Joyful were the stories that returned about the ability to give with abandon, to feed while being fed. To my eyes, it was like experiencing the Eucharist--as the community took, broke and shared bread and groceries with all they met who had need. What happens at Malachi's Storehouse is a dinner party of lavish proportion, offered every week, because someone first modeled for us how to do, how to be, how to become that generous hospitality. Jesus shows us with his very life, he himself the fragrant offering, he himself the bread that gives life for the world. To fully perceive it, to fully understand the revelation, we must share it. And so, the dinner party is always on the move. It is God's movable feast.

And so we are both host and guest at the dinner party, at God's movable feast. The words of St. Augustine ring out: "You are the body of Christ...In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive."[1]

The news, my friends, is ridiculously good. Watch and see, for at the dinner party, at God's movable feast, there are always moments, always opportunities to see the ordinary revealed as extraordinary, to be reminded that "the world is charged with the grandeur of God." A grand dinner party is being thrown and we are invited. May we gratefully welcome the richness of the Bread of Life and so become imitators of God's lavish love. May we become what we receive.

Let us pray. God of abundance and love, open our eyes to see those places where you reveal the ordinary to be extraordinary and help us to make space in our hearts and in our world for you, that we may feed as we have been fed, welcome as we have been welcomed, and love as we have been loved. Amen.


[1] St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).