It's just as well that there's no place for a sermon since my Maundy Thursday sermons have traditionally be rambling remembrances of the wondrous meals of my life: driving to 'the country' before dawn for breakfast at my step-grandmother's house in Waiteville, WV; dinner on my maternal grandmother's birthday in Conklintown, up on the mountain with dozens of cousins and home-made ice-cream that gave you killer head-aches; feeding my mother after her stroke in her hospital room; the first Thanksgiving of our marriage in Cambridge, Mass, when the turkey was raw but the wine was plentiful; the awkward meals I'd bring my father to from the Nursing Home when we lived in New Haven....On and on I would go, describing dishes in great detail, talking about the people around the table, convinced that 'eating' is what tells us the most about the 'being' of human beings.
Tonight there were 10 of us and a meal of potato soup, spinach quiche, fruit and bread and cheese. Nobody washed anybody's feet. I've decided I really don't like the foot washing thing, but on the way home I remembered a Maundy Thursday past when Pauline, the shopping cart lady who came to St. John's, was at the Maundy Thursday service. She practically ran up to a chair to have her feet washed. I was there in my cassock and washed them in the warm water the altar guild had provided. It was terribly and profoundly humbling to do that for her. But what was truly transformational was when she jumped up and told me to sit down and gently, kindly, washed my feet. Maybe I just think it will never get better than that which makes me not like foot washing. Next year I will, just to give it another chance to humble and transform me.
I checked my file of sermons and found a Maundy Thursday sermon for 2008. I was shocked since I never thought I wrote any of them down. The reason I did was that some of the people who worked with me told me the Maundy Thursday ramblings were, well, too rambling. This is, to my knowledge the only Maundy Thursday sermon I ever wrote down. So, since I'm not getting excited about Holy Week because Mimi will come tomorrow and Cathy and the girls will arrive and Tim and Josh will come Saturday morning and I've been reminded of how much I love Holy Week and Easter.
Maundy Thursday 2008
Maundy Thursday is always my favorite holy day
And I always talk about eating.
And often I get too long winded and go on and on and people wonder when I’ll ever finish.
Something about ‘meals’ keeps me talking beyond what is necessary.
So, this year I wrote it down so it would be controlled and less than 10 minutes and you wouldn’t have to wonder if I’d wandered off into some crack in my brain and wouldn’t be back for a while!
Easter dinner is special in our home. We aren’t surrounded by ‘family’ so we have invented a ‘family’ for holidays. We have friends who come to share our table on Thanksgiving and Christmas and, most of all, for me, on Easter.
John will be there—a friend of mine since college who lives in New Haven and is a Warden at Christ Church. West Virginians through and through—John and I. We have a patois that is Mountain Talk that few can follow if they didn’t grow up in that lush and deserted place.
He’ll call me and say, “Hey, Jim….”
And I’ll answer, “Hey, John…” and we’re off and running about the dogs that won’t hunt and the crazy aunts and stuff no one else understands.
Jack and Sherry will be there—our friends who we met when we lived in New Haven. They are southerners—Virginia and South Carolina. They usually bring a country ham and dandelion risotto and a Green Salad (which is shredded vegetables and pecans in lime Jello for those not familiar with southern cuisine) for Easter dinner.
I know John and Jack and Sherry as well as I know myself. We rub against each other in ways that make life make sense.
And Mimi will be there. My ‘princess’, my love, my precious girl. She is nearing 30 but she is still my baby girl. An hour with Mimi is like an eternity in heaven for me. I love her so. She is so wondrous—did you know she has become a girl scout leader in Brooklyn for young girls from the projects? She raises money for the American Ballet Theater for a living, but she embraces young girls who need a mentor to make her life meaningful. She is so precious to me I can hardly speak of her without weeping. And she will be at the table.
This year, we will have ‘family’. Uncle Frankie and his son, Anthony—bern’s favorite cousin, and his daughter Francis and her life-partner Lisa will be at the table. They hale from West Virginia but all live in Rhode Island now. They will be there, bringing memories and stories that would otherwise not be there.
And that is what the meal is about, after all, the telling of stories to help us ‘remember’ and to give us hope to go on. And we will eat the ham and the onion pie and the deviled eggs and the salad and the scalloped potatoes and tell the stories and be present—so remarkably present—to what is alive and real and wondrous, even in the sad stories of Aunt Annie’s death and the fact that Josh and Cathy and our granddaughters, Morgan and Emma are in Taiwan this Easter and not with us. They will gather around other tables—not to celebrate the resurrection because they are either Buddhists or nothing at all—but they will gather around a table to eat and tell stories and love each other and be present—so present—to the heart of God.
That’s what this night is about. How being around a table, sharing food, telling stories, loving each other, hoping for the future, wondering what happens next….
That’s what this night’s about. A table set and full of food. Family and friends gathered. Passing the bread, sharing the wine….wondering what will happen next.
Because Jesus sat around that table so long ago and shared his body and his blood with those he loved and those he would never know.
Just sitting at a table, eating with those you love, is a holy thing. A holy thing. A holy thing. Remember that always. Remember that. Remember…