After three long years without Suzanne’s deviled eggs and Essie’s sesame noodles (although we missed Ruby’s ham and Christine’s potatoes), Thanksgiving came back to church as if it had never left. I didn’t cry; please clap! Although there’s still no better place to cry in all of New York City, in my practiced opinion.
We feasted again, on turkey and vegan macaroni and cheese, on mandarins in bowls and fruit processed beyond recognition into pies and cobblers. Friends we hadn’t seen in years came back, pulled in like the tide by a satellite made of carbs and surrounded by the promised banquet that for so long felt so far away and yet never left us.
Valerie preached on Radical Abundance, opening with the ancient testimony from 2 Peter 1:2: “May grace and peace be yours in abundance.” And if there’s anything I know about grace, it’s that it is by definition unlimited. So why wish grace, in particular, in abundance? I suspect it’s because, as Valerie has preached on Paul Tillich’s Shaking of the Foundations before, we live in a world that offers us a rotten deal: we cannot ever be enough, but we can purchase or steal or usurp or exploit some half-measures that will give us that feeling for a short time. What a life of faith offers is a paradox: we cannot ever be enough, except that grace always and already covers our insufficiency. An offer of grace in abundance means that it is there before you know you need it, when you think you don’t need it, when you’re sure you don’t deserve it.
And it’s not (necessarily) supernatural grace, either. In a world telling us we are never enough, grace says that God has already done enough, so we have done enough. And that grace shows up as a table groaning under the weight of aluminum trays that barely survived long trips on the subway, carefully labeled with ingredients so everyone can find their own personal “enough” on their plates. It shows up as seats, napkins, forks, cups. Grace says, sit down and eat, even if you forgot, even if you didn’t have time, even if you couldn’t afford, even if you’re not sure. Let’s be enough, for each other, together.
I hate to jump the gun on Christmas—I love Thanksgiving, and want to give both holidays their due—but I felt this sense of abundance most keenly at Christmas about ten years ago. It had been an unrelentingly hard year, and I went to see my family at Christmas, and went to Christmas Eve service at the church where I’d grown up, and, as usual, the service began with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” And I sang the words God and sinners reconciled, and I felt it in my entire body: that sense of which Tillich wrote, that I was accepted by that which was greater than me. I had shown up and I had won merely by showing up. God and those who loved me would take it from there. And they really did.
And for the next Thanksgiving at Judson I made a salad, and I’m not saying it was a great salad, but I had something to bring, something to cover the next person who showed up with only themselves and the fear that they were not acceptable to God or themselves. I could say, Don’t worry, I’ve got you, and mean it.
Since 2019, there were no tables scattered with leaves from the park, no charming arrangements of gourds and variegated cauliflowers around the baptistry courtesy of Ted and Bart, no last-minute store-bought loaves proffered by those who forgot or ran out of time to bake (not that I am thinking of anyone in particular, such as, for example, possibly, myself). And I don’t want to minimize the particular pain of missing these gatherings around the tables, or the care that was taken in the decisions both to forego the tables and to bring them back. But it’s only because, like the Christmas of the Whos in Whoville, our sense of abundance was never wholly dependent on the tables themselves that we were able to bring them back. Like so many other things in the life of faith, we found that what we could offer each other when we had so little to offer could be everything, or at least it could be enough.