There are two images that come to mind when I think of picnics.
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The first is obvious: Yogi Bear—the Hanna-Barbera cartoon bear who made his debut in 1958…27 years before I was born.
What I remember about the ‘smarter than the av-er-age bear’ character were his silly antics in the fictional Jellystone Park. If you remember, Yogi speaks in rhyme and uses a plethora of puns. My guess is that if you aren’t familiar with the show, then at one point or another you’ve heard one of his famous catchphrases: “Hey there, Boo!” Or perhaps you have heard someone refer to a ‘picnic basket’ in the manner Yogi did: “pic-a-nic baskets.’
Yogi was always up to something and it was usually attempting to steal the picnic baskets of campers. This, of course, always made me want to go on a picnic, while at the same time made me quite terrified that at some point a tie-donning bear (why in the world is he wearing a tie anyway? Does he not know he has no shirt or pants on?) would jump out from behind the tree and steal my food!
My only saving grace is that we never had a wicker picnic basket. Just Tupperware, which I was confident Yogi wouldn’t be able to figure out.
Eventually this silly fear went away. Thank goodness, because some of my favorite memories are centered on a plastic table cloth, paper plates, and blue Solo cups covering a picnic table in a park with family surrounding me.
It was a practice of my extended family to gather for a picnic as often as we could during the summer, especially for those special occasions such as Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July.
I loved these days. Not only because of the food we had, but because it was a celebration, a different way of being with each other. Us grandkids would bring our ball gloves and play catch or hotbox until our faces were beat red and a sweat halo hovered at the base of our ball caps. Then, when it was time to eat, my grandpa would offer up the prayer, followed by a ‘speech’ letting everyone know how proud he was of us.
Then we would dig in.
Each picnic was practically the same. The food and the conversations were as predictable as the life lesson presented at the end of each Yogi Bear cartoon.
Therein lies the paradox of picnics. In the predictability of a picnic lies the promise of possibility when God's people gather to share life, tell stories, and break bread. Picnics provide the needed space for the Spirit to bind our hearts, as well as our appetites, to the very core of Jesus, who, when he was at supper with his closest friends, offered them peace, God's own peace.
What has become clear to me, friends, over the years is that the most sacred moments, the ones I return to for comfort the way I do with the mac and cheese, take place around the table with family, friends, and even strangers.
Ultimately, for me, picnics are not about the cuisine, rather they are about community. It is about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our picnic baskets, look into one another’s faces, and listen to one another’s stories.
This Sunday we will worship at Kickapoo Park at 10 a.m. Then, immediately following, we will gather around picnic tables and break bread. My hope is that you will join us and share your story with me over cheesy potatoes and fried chicken.
I promise you, you won’t regret it.
Though I can’t promise you Yogi won’t make an appearance…