Rev. Donavon Riley
All creation praises it’s Creator (Psalm 148). And yet, because God subjected creation “to futility” (Romans 8:20) because of sin, it cries out every day in hope for the greatness that is still to come. The most sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner, the most savory foods, the most exciting conversations-all these things stir up our appetite for more. They nudge us to imagine more stuff that lasts longer than a holiday feast. We can’t help ourselves. No matter how much hot apple cider, eggnog, or mulled wine we drink, it doesn’t slake our thirst…not really. They whet our appetite for more. As soon as we push ourselves away from the table-while we look around for the nearest piece of furniture that promises a nap before the invasion of the leftovers begins-our hearts are in motion. By the time we wake up, bleary-eyed, dry-mouthed, the taste of the feast has faded from our mouths. The great things they inspired in us-the laughter, the delight, the joy-have escaped. The world is solid. It can be picked up with our forks, chewed, swallowed. But it struggles in us. It declares itself a pilgrim in our digestive tracts and reminds us that our hunger can only be satisfied for a moment. Every meal, especially holiday feasts, reminds us of what we are about.
Why do we ask, “Will you marry me?” Why do we fuse paint to canvas? Why do we lose sleep over a smoked turkey? Why do we go for after-dinner walks in the woods? Because we delight in God’s created stuff. We become like children again when we wonder at creation’s goodness. And still, no matter how good the food or conversation, we feel like we are strangers in a strange place. We’re out of step with what’s real, as if there’s got to be a better version of this family, this feast, this holiday somewhere else. For Christians, we appreciate that feeling of strangeness, a nostalgia for what hasn’t happened yet. We know why we hunger and thirst for that “somewhere else” to come to us at the last. Family, food, special days all point to the New Jerusalem. In Baptism we are given appetites, not to devour the world and forget about it, but to taste its goodness and hunger for what can satisfy all of us one time for all time.
When we pray at table, “Bless us Father, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bountiful goodness through Jesus Christ our Lord,” we acknowledge not only what’s been laid out in front of us on disposable aluminum trays, in Pyrex bowls, and ceramic pie pans. We express our desire to sit at a table where grace is received with greater thanks than Aunt Debbie’s cheesy mashed potatoes-where we may drink enough heavenly wine to drown envy, pride, resentment, bitterness, and shame; where we rejoice that dry turkey meat and runny cranberry sauce are replaced by the Body and Blood of the Word who created and recreated us, and where unsettled men and women, who struggle to escape their birthright, are baked into one joyous family in Christ Jesus. One excessive, laugh out loud, endless holiday party. The feast of the Lamb without end, where singing goes on into all hours of the night, and old jokes never feel worn out, where even the sun, moon, and stars howl in laughter at the telling.
For now, we must be satisfied with a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. At the Lord’s Supper, all creation praises its Creator. But because of sin, we eat and drink in hope for our final satisfaction at the Last Day. That doesn’t mean sin has ruined family and feasts for us. It hasn’t. Creation is good. That’s what God said, so that’s the way of it, even if Grandma Clements smells like a wet cat. The way to the eternal party then doesn’t run around God’s good creation, but through it. At the Supper of the Lamb the way is made straight and true for us. We aren’t saved so that we can run amok, trampling creation’s goodness under foot. God made us to be given to, from Him for each other today.
When He brings us to His table, He gathers us to himself, His beloved “given-to.” We are called to the party to eat well, to drink and rejoice, to love and serve each other as we have been loved and served by our heavenly Father. At the Lord’s Table it is revealed to us that all creation is the gorgeousness of God’s Fatherly heart made solid. And from His table all our feasts, every gravy-smeared plate, every wine stain on the couch, every pie crumb ground into the carpet, will cause us to give thanks for the giftedness of creation. Those things remind us again that in this life all of our thank-yous are but a foretaste of the Great Thanksgiving to come — the Supper of the Lamb without end. Amen.
Rev. Donavon Riley is pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota.