Her mouth drew tight as she eased back into her wheelchair. The blue vinyl creaked a little, just like her brittle bones as she transitioned back into sitting. Her face relaxed and she continued her stories about her husband. Gone for a few decades, yet, by the glint in her eye, it seemed as if he could be waiting for her in her hospital room.
I hear a lot of stories about days gone by when I sit with my patients as they work out their injuries in the clinic. It is one of the things that drew me to the older adult population. Wisdom tumbles out of their mouth without effort.
This sweet widow said something that caused me to turn and lean in close.
“He used to say, ‘Bake a cake and invite someone over after church.'”
The simplicity of that gesture made my soul leap with possibilities. I could picture him in his Sunday suit, hat in one hand, and fellowship in the other. A long-absent parishioner, a lonely widow, a family whose children looked a little thinner than they did last week. Come on over; Sunday dinner is waiting!
My new friend continued. “Those were the very best times. We all had children about the same age. They would run around and we would sit and talk for the longest. Not about anything in particular; just sit and enjoy the visit.”
She had me in the palm of her hand. This is community. This is church. The look on her face convinced me that the memories of those casual afternoons ushered in the joy of her salvation all over again. It is a memory I want to have when it is my turn to sit in that wheelchair.
There was no rush in her story, just as there was no rush around her kitchen table on Sunday.
When my feet hit the floor on Sunday mornings, I most often have every hour connected to some chore, errand, or event. We shoot out of church like a rock out of a sling shot, hurling through time and space just looking for a place to land. The kids park in front of glowing screens and I busy myself with whatever it is that I didn’t get to the other 6 days.
Busy blocks community. Lists trump love. What if we were to stop for a few hours on Sunday to recline at the table just as Jesus did at Mary and Martha’s house? Are there dry places in our souls that might receive a drop of Living Water from the cup of our brother or sister? Breaking bread together has the potential to draw us toward holiness.
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity–all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47
Almost on cue, she dispelled excuses. “We used plastic forks, plastic spoons, paper plates. We didn’t do anything fancy. No china and silver like they do these days.”
I have a feeling my sweet, wise Mary-not-Martha isn’t on Pinterest. She doesn’t have boards of “Great for Entertaining” that intimidate her to the point of never entertaining. She didn’t let chipped plates and mismatched place settings keep her from living in community. She kept the main thing the main thing–loving people.
When the process becomes more important than the people, joy is extinguished by pride. Community happens when we put away our self-imposed expectations of perfection and open our hearts and homes to others. We are flawed people living in messy houses. All of us. Why not let that show and find grace and connection in it?
We have a great group of friends and meet a few times a year over pot luck and cookie trays. But, there is something about the regular and relaxed Sunday dinner that builds intimacy like nothing found on the church calendar.
That sweet woman, although broken by a fall, spoke life into me. She encouraged me to let go of pride and self-protection in order to allow community to happen around my table. I can hear her soft voice, cracked around the edges from decades of wisdom-talk, “Bake a cake and invite someone over after church.”