The Lenten soup supper in the church basement. A staple of the Lutheran tradition of which I am a part—and because we are Lutheran (grace!), rather than being meager, fast-like meals, we sustain ourselves for the hard truths of Lent with hardy chili, seafood chowder, tomato bisque with mozzarella, five varieties of bread, and seven choices of dessert. Just for starters: brownies with whipped cream, carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting and shredded coconut, a nutmeg Bundt with a brown-sugar caramel frosting. Ah, free in Christ.
Hunched-over, wrinkled beauties hobble in the heavy church door, just barely managing to hoist their silver crockpots and cake carriers to a rolling cart waiting by the front door, which is then pushed to the elevator. They stop and catch their breath. “Whew, made it!”
In the basement, decorations from the youth Valentine’s Day breakfast still adorn the large circular tables—doilies and hearts and Bible verses and red flowers. A mighty scurrying is happening in the kitchen—people are gathering bowls and spoons and paper coffee cups and salt and pepper shakers as the crock pots arrive—black and silver and red—and are lined up on a long table, ladles by their sides.
There is a holy hovering around the sacramentally bubbling soups, an anticipation of the sustenance, laughter, and fellowship to come. After repeatedly being urged to get this party started, the pastor lifts his voice and leads a table prayer, even as a few sneaky folks slide over a wee bit closer to the table. “Amen!” Everyone falls into formation in two lines, one on each side of the table—mothers, dads, gray-haired ladies, bald old fellows, the proper and coiffed, the off-the-cuff and blue-jeaned. Laughing, smiling, anticipating. We, the church.
Some settle into familiar tables, as if resting into the relief of a well-worn pew. But familiar groupings also mix with unfamiliar ones. After all, soup supper isn’t coffee hour. You can sit literally anywhere. Old timers compliment young folks—“great recipe!”—and the favor is returned. Stories flow with the black coffee from the old, silver percolator. Someone remembered to plug it in early; nothing worse than coffee you can see through, as everyone knows. Well done, good and faithful servant, you old bubbling purveyor of koinonia. Without coffee, the people perish, I think it says in the good, old Book.
When we finish—savoring and sipping at least two of the fine offerings laid before us and partaking of multiple desserts (so as not to hurt feelings, of course)—the community leaps into action. The dishes must be washed, slid into the dishwasher, the big compartment pushed down as the water and soap loudly rush in. The tables must be cleared and wiped. The percolator emptied and rinsed. Everything must be cleaned and put away. After all, Holden Evening Prayer is waiting for us up in the sanctuary. We have eaten together; now we must sing.