Making the pancakes was the first time I took a breath during those early weeks of quarantine.
My family’s introduction to the post-Covid world kicked off with a visit to the ER for my youngest son when he woke up unable to breathe. In the following days, whatever untested virus my son had spread through the house. Our three kids convalesced on the couch under the care of Netflix, and I cried in the bathroom.
By the end of the second week of fever, coughs, and quarantine, we had recovered slightly. I brought out the giant Costco bag of pancake mix. My husband had bought oil weeks ago, after telling me, “You know, this whole coronavirus thing might become a problem.”
Our days had become a blur — I was only half sure it was Sunday, but it definitely felt like a good day for a big breakfast. It would be a few more weeks before our parish had figured out Zoom services, and in the meantime, we needed a little rhythm and hope in our lives. And a little maple syrup.
“We’re having pancake church today, kids,” I told my crew. They were intrigued. I promised them no, they did not have to change out of their pajamas. All they had to do was eat pancakes and listen.
After I cooked two batches of pancakes (one for the blueberry crowd and one for the chocolate chip fans) and the syrup was poured, we began. I read from their children’s picture Bible, my kids improvised some prayers of the faithful, and we ended with an Our Father.
It was close enough. “I like pancake church way better than regular church,” my son declared, licking his fingers clean. It wasn’t the same as gathering with our community, and I can’t imagine the next time that will happen. But pancake church had at the very least brought back a little rhythm to our home.
In our home, the center of daily life is the table. Since quarantine started, the table has rarely been clean — it has held up a constant rotation of art projects, science experiments, binoculars for backyard bird watching, work laptops, and lunch dishes which haven’t been cleared away.
And on Sunday mornings, it holds pancakes.
As a mom of three young children, I have to admit it has been a minute since I have serenely reflected on the Eucharist. In the days before quarantine, my mind was often too preoccupied with keeping my children from pummeling each other to do much else than passively sit and watch other parishioners as they walked past our pew to receive Communion. I hadn’t known what a precious sight that would be.
But I look forward to the next time we are able to share that bread together. I know many of us envision that moment as one of joyous triumph. But in reality, it will not be. Our first times back in parishes and other public spaces will likely be fraught with anxiety — eyeing our neighbor from six feet apart, rather than embracing them.
And so it was in the days of the early Church, in churches that did not have aisles or pulpits. The celebrations were accompanied by fear of gathering together, and uncertainty about the future. But nevertheless, as the people gathered in homes, and around tables, there was joy. And there was bread, broken and shared.
Our pancakes are not a Sacrament. They are, more simply, a way to get the children to sit and listen to the gospel with minimal protest. They are a way to mark the passing of days in a world where today and yesterday feel indistinguishable.
And at our table, for the time foreseeable, they are a feast.