At the same time, there are a few things we’d prefer not to celebrate about home and family. When it comes to bringing the family together around the Thanksgiving table, there’s always that one uncle who tries to talk politics through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. Someone is always doing a “it really wasn’t even funny the first time” impression of Henry VIII with a turkey leg. And sooner or later your cousin is going to have more than her fair share of the “special occasion” wine and start reminiscing about family secrets better forgotten.
We can have the same experience as a faith community. One parish might have a tone-deaf music director. Another might feature sermons so monotonous that you find yourself making a remotecontrol fast-forward gesture out of habit.
And sooner or later you’re going to sit next to the old lady wearing at least ten ounces of perfume or the young lady wearing at most ten ounces of fabric.
Sometimes it might seem that Thanksgiving and Mass resemble one another most when we ask, “Do I have to go?” Dressing up—and dressing the kids—can be a challenge. Traditions can devolve into empty ritual and we find ourselves wondering whether it is worth the effort.
With maturity we learn that there is no Christianity without community. The very nature of God, the Trinity, has relationship at the heart of its mystery. If we’re sincere in seeking God, we’re not likely to find him in a burning bush or on a storm-capped mountain. God is always hiding where we don’t want to look—behind the turkey leg, beyond the cloying perfume, within the eyes of that long-winded preacher.
The old hymn that tells us “wherever two or three are gathered in my name” comes straight from Scripture. As much as we might like our faith to be “just me and Jesus,” Jesus won’t let us be that exclusive. He welcomes everyone and we should too. Some of the Pharisees of Jesus’s day shared our problem. They might have found it easier to accept Jesus if it weren’t for one problem: He hung out with the most disreputable people! Notorious sinners, prostitutes, even (gasp!) tax collectors! Why would such a holy man keep company with people who were so … human?
Ever helpful, Jesus showed them (and us) the way out of this conundrum. When the townspeople dragged the woman “caught in sin” before him, certain they could at last get him to condemn something, he told them calmly, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Just a few minutes of soul-searching is usually enough to remind us that we might have one or two tiny flaws ourselves. Maybe that cousin is drinking too much wine because she can’t stand the thought of another Thanksgiving with us…. Maybe that fragrant old lady is trying to compensate for that new body spray we’ve been wearing…. If Jesus is willing to love us in spite of our flaws, maybe it makes sense that he loves them, too. And maybe, for his sake, we should try a little harder.
Gathered at the Table
Madeleine L’Engle imagines a scene that illustrates Christ’s forgiveness in her story
Waiting for Judas: