What could be more special than Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house? It was only a short drive for us, and we could usually be found there every Sunday afternoon anyway. Many of my mom’s brothers and sisters lived close by, so every Sunday was a mini-family reunion, but Thanksgiving Day at Grandma’s house was a vibrant, moving mass of over-fed flesh stuffed into a house flanked by valleys.
While the old-folks (no offense, I was a little boy) sang songs or played cards, we kids could be found playing down at the creek or climbing around the hay bales or the tobacco leaves hanging from racks to dry in the barn. Going to Grandma’s was an adventure unsurpassed in my vault of childhood memories. Grandma’s house had a banister to slide down, rooms to excuse yourself from the presence of adults, a creek to catch crawdads, and a barn to shoot pigeons. Valuable lessons were learned when we proudly presented our prize to Grandma, and she rewarded our marksmanship by making us clean and eat them. Pigeon does not taste like chicken.
Grandma’s house was a feast for the senses. The pleasant smell of warming turkey wafting through the air. The abundance of choices for the palate provided by each visitor bearing their contribution to the meal. Football games dominated the attention of the men, particularly the uncle whose most coherent words of the day beckoned us to get out from in front of the TV. Time has a way of reminding us of how special were the things that we had taken for granted. Grandma died a few years back, and the rest of my grandparents had died before I was born.
As I reflect on those Thanksgivings, I am reminded of the importance of celebration in the establishment of a community. The family members who were able to share the experience of Grandma’s house are bound together by that collective experience. Those shared memories were the things that kept us from being orphans long since dispersed throughout the country. We are a family, because we all shared the bond that only family celebrations can create.
The Church has for many centuries used a celebration that accomplishes exactly that function of creating family experiences that bind us together. Baptism obviously is the beginning of inclusion into the family of God for most of us. The Lord’s Supper is the celebration that Christ instituted to give us comfort and assurance of our membership. These are the two most important means through which God creates His family, and through which He forms their shared experiences.
Another way that we are bound together as God’s people through celebration, is through the liturgy or the Divine Service of the Church. When we are isolated and alone throughout the country (even the world), we may know that we are really at home when we hear the familiar invocation. We are at home when we hear God’s Words of forgiveness in the absolution. We are at home when we join our voices with the Christmas angels signing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will to men!”
Even when family members have been quite distant or chose to separate themselves, a day at Grandma’s would remind them that they were home. It’s that way in the Church too. There may be an awkward period of readjustment (sort of like trying to remember your second cousin’s husband’s name), but familiarity eventually makes one feel like family again. I don’t mind the new worship styles. They can be interesting, but they don’t feel like the family I remember. From time to time, novelty has its advantages, but more than anything I want to be where I feel at home. That’s why I prefer to worship the way the Church has always worshiped, because I don’t want to make my own isolated tradition. I want to be a part of the tradition that makes us all one family. I value God’s people of the past, those I will one day see again in God’s heavenly family. I value the gift that they have left me in the celebration of the Church. I’ll close the way we always close the meal prayer at Grandma’s house, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above Ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Love, Steve (Book of Short Stories from the children of Adolph & Theresa Sommerer 1997?)