Dark night seeps through until it soaks the sky, and we walk to the church on the corner. The last two years, we hosted community Thanksgiving dinner at our house. But we worried we may burst at the seams this year, so we gratefully use the church cafeteria instead. Light spills from the open door onto the busy street. Everyone walks by and stops, curious, peering into the gleaming doorway. I am quick to invite them to join us, but most scurry on to the corner store across the way, or in the opposite direction to the Marta station.
Thankfully, Adam’s mom has spent the afternoon organizing and making sure we have everything we need, while I edit pictures and shout to the kids in the street to join us tonight. Caden sits at an empty table banging his fists on it, yelling DESSERT; meanwhile, Jayci folds the napkins and the rest of us spread plastic tablecloths and lay out turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes buffet-style.
Our friend Milton, who sleeps under the bridge most nights, sits on the pavement outside the door waiting. He grins gap-toothed, proudly announcing that he has invited all his friends.
The boys walk up in a pack, sitting outside for just a minute before announcing that they-will-surely-freeze, shivering loudly. They simply must come inside they insist, and soon their laughter and teasing fills the hall. My dad arrives with a big dish of macaroni and cheese, and Adam frets that we will have far too much food, considering he cooked the biggest turkey we could find. I smile and remind him that the clock has just barely nudged 6:30.
Sure enough, the cars and neighbors start arriving in a stream, and soon most chairs are taken, and space swells to full. I mingle and hug and laugh, passing Amir to Adam’s sister so I can snuggle some of the smallest neighbors. People bring side dishes and desserts, and they line the table; rolls piled high in the basket on the end. Adam raises his voice to pray thankful, and to remind everyone how many people need to eat: don’t be greedy, and we are serving oldest-to-youngest. The boys all groan, and the line forms starting with Ms Lula, in her prettiest flower-painted blouse, with Milton disregarding Adam and piling his plate high behind her.
Laughter spills along with lemonade, and Dee Dee chases Shareka around the tables gleefully. Adam’s sister sits across the table from Milton and one of his friends. Mentors sit with mentees, the whole family dressed in Sunday best. More boys wander in late and high on something, stopping to listen as girls from our church youth group spill music from the old piano in the corner. Adam’s dad chats with Walt from across the street, and everywhere chocolate skin and cream skin and young and old and poor and rich families and neighbors sit checkboard-style around the room.
And I use run-on sentences and too many adjectives because this Kingdom of God, it breaks all the rules.
Grace sneaks in when we do not serve them, but we all pile our plates high with food and sit side-by-side to enjoy the bounty of Him who prepares the feast. Communion and community inextricably bound, the mystery of Christ looms near tonight, as we break bread together and pour gravy over our potatoes. The church becomes the Church when a congregation with bullet-proof glass over its stained-glass and metal grates on their doors, swings them wide to invite the wanderers and the wounded, and brings peach cobbler for dessert.
At the feast gather no wounded or handicapped, because we somehow find our identity as sons and daughters of the King seated at His table. This I think, with a smile, is the Kingdom come. Grace found in the cornbread and green bean casserole. And it grows loud and messy and far less perfect than perhaps I imagined.
Who made the greens? Milton asks me loudly, and his friends all nod. I smile, telling him it was Ms. Tony, one of my friend Ashlee’s neighbors. Well, she cooked-the-heck-out of them greens he announces. We all laugh and agree, and Milton leans close, telling me he has been thinking about what we he is thankful for, like Adam instructed in his opening spiel.
What did you conclude? I ask.
This. He says it simply and waves his arm wide to encompass the room. We hug, and I whisper me too. Together we watch quietly for a minute, perhaps both reveling in the peace that somehow permeates despite the chaos. Then he pumps his fists in the air, yelling the food was good! Everyone cheers and he takes some dessert for the road before heading out the door.
Jayci announces the end of “the feast,” and the boys and some guys from our church help the church ladies sweep and wipe tables with loud and laughing directions from coach Joe and Adam. I still hear neighborhood kids yelling down the street. A friend from work helps carry our own children home under the star strewn sky. And there’s abundant beauty and bread, and a feast where we sit in community and share communion under the banner of the King.
“He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.”