Everyone seemed tired today – but happy.
The tiredness, and the happiness, would have been related to yesterday’s Cajun Dinner.
The Cajun Dinner is an annual event: the Saturday night before Ash Wednesday, or, alternatively, the Saturday night before Mardi Gras.
It takes place in the all-purpose room of the church, which one of the more aesthetically-gifted members transforms for the occasion with green, purple and gold masks and centerpieces and tablecloths and beads and so on. The menu features chicken and sausage jambalaya and red beans and rice cooked in the church kitchen by members and a valued friend of the church, served up by suitably attired congregants, along with bread and butter and a reasonably large selections of hot sauce for those who want to spice up their MILD jambalaya and fresh salad with toppings, beverages (regular and decaf, sweet and unsweet tea, lemonade, all watched over by another reliable member) and assorted desserts made by the bakers of the congregation.
The food is good – we have it on good authority from the dinner’s regulars – and is available one night only for a free will offering. The proceeds benefit Harrison County Community Services, the central agency in the county that provides food and other forms of assistance for people in urgent need. In other words, it’s a way to share our bread with the hungry and have a big party doing it.
Someone always manages to come up with a suitable zydeco playlist to pipe over the PA system; our choir director passes out “lagniappe” – usually in the form of shrimp cocktail and crawfish étouffée in 2 TB sample cups; various church members bus the tables and run the dish machine and replenish the stack of to-go containers and greet the visitors and make the event happen. This year that was something like 25 or 26 people all together, who organized and planned and prepped and contacted the local chicken processing company for donated chickens and cooked chicken and picked chicken for jambalaya and shopped and chopped onions and green pepper and celery and bagged rice and “looked beans” and set up tables and chairs and got up in the attic and brought down the sterno sets and the jambalaya pans and …
yes, it is a lot of work. From time to time we ask ourselves whether we can still do it, since we are fewer, and older, than we used to be, and our feet hurt sooner, and longer, than they used to. But at the end of the evening, we still tell each other what we think we need to do different next time. This seems to be a sign that we are not finished with this yet.
Maybe this is because it’s work we do together, and for all the fatigue and fussing and being concerned about many things, we meet one another in a special way over the tables we lift together, the coffee cups we set out together, the plates of jambalaya we dish up standing side by side for a couple of hours.
Or maybe it’s the hospitality. This year, because we have been talking about the focus-action-reflection model of Christian education, and because we are trying to be intentional and to build some of that reflection into all the things we do as a church, our pastor gathered everyone in the kitchen together for a meditation on what we were doing before the event kicked off. We prayed to share the presence of our hospitable God with our neighbors and strangers who came to sit across the tables and share this food and this space and this festivity. We prayed that they would see Christ, more than they saw us.
Afterwards, when we were almost all done, we gathered again in the fellowship hall and said thanks for it all, and rested a bit together and noticed that something had happened in all of this.
But honestly, I think it is the way the Cajun Dinner is one of those things that comes close to being what is one of the great ends of the church, the “exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”
If we can imagine the Kingdom of Heaven as a big room with LED lights and a few children running around and Mardi Gras decorations and running back and forth from the kitchen and homemade jambalaya.
But honestly, for a few hours on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, in the middle of plenty of food and no questions asked, in the middle of people laughing and smiling and tapping their toes to sunny music, in the middle of all that welcoming and feeling welcome and cooperating and fitting and helping and belonging and gratitude and affection and joy and love … it’s hard to imagine the Kingdom of Heaven being any other way.