For a little over a year now, we have been outside in front of our building on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and more recently on the first Friday of each month, giving away food. And not just any food but warm meals that have been prepared with whole ingredients by volunteers who come in early – both members of our worshipping community and those who are not.
They come in - prep, chop, cook assemble meals and then leave so that another group can come in to put together the brown bags that we will serve the meals in; filing them with fresh baked cookies and other treats and of course the hot food.
Then we go outside, set up tents, prepare coffee and tea and containers with packets of sugar and little plastic creamers.
One of us, usually me or Jonathan then head out with hand sanitizer and masks and we wait for people to come.
Only I can’t remember that last time we had to wait for people to come. Usually, by the time we get outside there is a line up through the Hillman (or front) garden and up the stairs and past the front of the church.
Sometimes the people who are closest to the front will help us to set up the tents or put up the flimsy side walls that help to protect us and them from the rain or wind and help to establish a path so that people will know where to go as they come for the food and then leave.
Sometimes we also have bread or fresh fruit and vegetables to offer as well.
As folks come through, we sometimes get to have little conversations with them, mostly about the weather, sometimes about what’s ailing them. Sometimes we have to help settle arguments between hungry, impatient people.
What we have noticed is that when we were first allowed to serve after initially having to close the ministry completely while we figured out how to navigate COVID, we were serving roughly 70 meals each time and now we are regularly serving 120.
We don’t see some of the guests that we used to see when we were serving inside at all anymore – while new people have started to come. The lineup of people waiting for the meal that we offer has become much more diverse: while we still serve folks who are living rough, sleeping either outside or in shelters, we also have a number of elders, women, and recent immigrants and some who have never accessed a free meal program before including a few people who work in the office buildings around us.
The impacts of this pandemic have been far reaching.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves,..”writes Paul. (Romans 8:22)
There is a loveliness in the kitchen as people prepare food together, chatting and adjusting recipes. And there has been a kindness in the line outside. For the most part, people chat with each other or with us, they are patient when elders come who can’t stand for long and need to be served food faster.
They offer to help us wipe tables and put the tents away when we are done.
Some of them will take an extra bag of food for another who they haven’t seen, but they are pretty sure is just running late – and they will wait to share it with them.
While not everyone who comes to eat feels certain of the vaccines, there is a hopefulness with most. Thanks to public health workers who made sure that vaccines were given to people in shelters and on the streets, many of our guests have had at least their first shot – there is talk among them about when we might be able to go inside.
Vienne, who now runs this ministry and I have been in conversations about what else we might be able to do with the Maundy ministry – dreaming about ways that we can further support the people who come – starting with a meal but then also finding ways to advocate, educate and accompany people.
If we have learned anything in this pandemic time, I think it is how interconnected we are – how our choices impact each other – how even my choice to wear a mask and stand apart from you, can help to keep you safe.
Paul goes on in his letter to the Romans, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”(Romans 22:26-27)
The Spirit, the breath of God, the third and often overlooked member of the Trinity, she who breeds creativity and possibility. She who hovered over the waters of creation, also hovers over us. She breathes in and through us – reminding us of our connection to each other and to God. She is at work in so many unseen and often unnoticed ways.
When we can’t do things the way we are used to, the Spirit shows up and helps us to find another way.
Today as we celebrate the season of Pentecost, we celebrate the Spirit of God and what we do in her name. We celebrate the ways that we come together and live out church at its best – in shared meals, in creative ministry plans, in ways that we tell the story of what we are doing together.
This past year has worn many of us down and exposed so much for us about the work that we need to do and the ways that we are connected to each other and to the earth,
And as we begin to look up and look around, there are reasons for hope.
I love this passage in Romans, because it speaks to the reality of us. We have been groaning – things have felt precarious, maybe even before the pandemic. We want redemption from these bodies of ours that are vulnerable and precarious and far more dependant than we want them to be.
We need the intervention of the Spirit on our behalf to move among us, hover over us; to remind us that we are not alone to help us to get creative and find new ways of showing up for each other.
This is what Church does at its best. Following the commandments that we have been given to love God and each other, to share what we have and to watch out for each other: we show up, set up tents and hope that no one goes away hungry.
I hold up the Maundy Café because despite the closure of our building and weird empty church, online liturgies and Zoom evening prayer – we have continued to show up, to support this ministry with time and money. We have continued to be church in the world. In the tradition of the Eucharist we share bread and warm food and coffee and tea. We bless the meal before it goes out.
We seek to be creative and open and to listen for where we go next.
In this season of Pentecost, I give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit, for Church, for creativity for blessing, for gimmers of hope and the patience that God has with us, waiting for us to pay attention to her and our connection to each other.
I give thanks for the ways that we continue to support one another and this ministry. We may still be groaning and waiting for redemption, but it’s closer – don’t you think? Exemplified for us here in meals lovingly can carefully prepared and handed out in little plastic containers and brown paper bags. In people showing up to set up and take down tents, to talk and get to know that names of the guests who come and hear some of their story.
Our redemption is tied up in each other, in our connectedness, in the ways that we care for our bodies and the bodies around us. It shows up in the ways that we take notice of the One who searched our hearts and intercedes on our behalf.
This morning, I give thanks for the work and love of God, through the Holy Spirit and who we remember this Pentecost morning.