In the Lectionary

August 6, Ordinary 18A (Matthew 14:13–21)

There are no ideal conditions for a miracle.

Are you all professional mourners now?” My spouse asked me this somewhat lightheartedly after a friend and I participated in a funeral liturgy and were then asked—some might say  “voluntold”—if we were available for another service later that same afternoon. It was a beautiful invitation and oddly enough quite fitting.

We laughed about it, because anyone even remotely close to me knows that I, a funeral home owner’s granddaughter, research death, talk about death, think about death, teach about death, tell of my own encounters with death all of the time. Professional mourning—not necessarily of the public wailing and sackcloth-wearing variety, but in terms of offering presence and care—is part of my vocation. More than that, it is part of the vocation of the church as well: remembering our death while pursuing how it is we ought yet live.

This may seem off topic for one of my favorite stories in the New Testament, the various tellings of Christ’s feeding of the multitudes. Its gravitas has always resonated with me, as it hints to the language of hospitality and love that I perhaps speak most fluently, to moments of deep community and fellowship. Whether planned or impromptu, the cookouts, potlucks, picnics, holiday tables, buffets, and charcuterie boards mark our gatherings of presence, abundance, and joy. Surely Ina Garten’s garden parties are an early echo of heaven’s banquet halls: it’s about what it means to have a table prepared for you and to find yourself deeply satisfied.