Our family had an unusual Thanksgiving this year. Burnt out from a busy autumn, and trying to bounce back from weeks spent fighting colds, my husband and I decided to keep things simple: no houseguests, no turkey. I was seriously considering just crashing in front of the TV with ham sandwiches when our neighbors asked us to go with them to Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. Good company, no hosting, and a turkey dinner with no cooking sounded good to us, so we accepted their invitation, and at 2 pm on Thanksgiving Day, headed downtown.
The restaurant was closed. After 75 years of serving Thanksgiving dinner and donating the proceeds to charity, the restaurant had stopped the tradition. We wandered around downtown looking for another place to eat, but nothing was open. We looked online for a restaurant and found one, but when we arrived, it too was closed.
We ended up at Sheetz, a gas station, buying fried food and tuna sandwiches that we took back to our place and ate in front of a movie.
And it was great.
For me, the hardest tenet of our faith is the assertion that Christ is to be found in community (see Matthew 18:20, among others). I can accept the stranger things – a virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, transubstantiation. These things are odd, but with a little imagination, they seem possible. What is more, there is a sort of mechanism, a cause-and-effect to each of them. The words of Mary and of the angel make possible the Incarnation. The death of Jesus leads to His rising from the dead. The words of the priest transform bread and wine. These things are easier for me to believe than that Christ is to be found in the flawed people of the Church. Community often goes catastrophically wrong, and there is no mechanism or sacramental word that I can look to for assurance that Christ is still present there.
Reflecting on this Thanksgiving, I find this grandiose claim about community a little easier to swallow. From the outside, it probably sounds like a disaster. Our plan for a dinner out did not materialize, and the time we’d planned to spend on the feast we spent wandering around aimlessly before buying food at the gas station. Yet our Thanksgiving was, in its own peculiar way, a pilgrimage. It was a search that friends made together for a place to give thanks. Somewhere along the way, the search for the feast became the feast itself.
There was no mechanism for this. There was no conversation that we had with our friends that established a Philosophy of Thanksgiving, nor did we strain our imaginations to understand how this comedy of errors could still be a Eucharistic experience. It just was.
The assertion that Christ is present in community is still going to challenge my faith. I know this. But remembering how the search for Thanksgiving became an act of thanksgiving makes me hope that, one day, the search for Christ in community will be transformed into finding Him there.