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By the Reverend Imogen Rhodenhiser, Associate Rector
This past weekend, I found myself in Augusta, Georgia to attend the ordination of a beloved friend. We gathered around many tables to feast and speak with old friends of Amy’s and new friends to us. But one visit stood out as one of the highlights of our recent Southern jaunt. It was an unplanned trip to an Episcopal convent called the Order of St. Helena, ten minutes down the road in North Augusta, South Carolina.
After arriving, we headed towards the chapel where we found Sister Ann. She embraced us as if she knew us, and then proceeded to show us around the chapel and tell us about the theology and artistry behind its altar and woodwork. When she asked if we could stay for lunch, we were only too happy to oblige.
At lunch, George met six Episcopal nuns, some ordained, some not, and all of whom delighted in him. They were the impetus behind his first tastes of ice cream and panettone, as well as his first (rather successful) attempts to drink water out of a glass. They gave us time, love, and laughter, and our meal together was both humble and utterly rich. After being shown some of the Sisters’ icons and artwork (their focal practices being on spirituality and the arts), we departed about two hours after our arrival.
Afterwards I wondered about what I would have done if I had been the one person in the chapel when some strangers arrived unannounced. Would I have let go of whatever plans I had for the next few hours and been fully present to them? Would I have immediately recognized in them the face of Christ, even in an infant? I would like to think so, but I don’t know for sure.
It can be hard to see Christ in the face of another, particularly so around a holiday table. In these festive days, it can seem like our options are limited either to bearing with challenging family and friends or else creating a fairy-tale holiday experience at all costs. God offers us an alternative path.
Our Lord Christ shared meals over and over again with people whose strengths and imperfections he knew all too well, with people who he’d never met, and with people nobody otherwise liked. God invites us to show up looking for that Christ in our midst and in the faces around us, both the familiar and new. Moreover, God invites us to show up bearing Christ’s love and compassion in our very own selves. Because beyond the delicious food and the gorgeous decorations, it is the presence of Christ, in humility and love, that turns a meal into a feast.