The table

I have a thing about tables – end tables, side table, telephone tables, coffee tables, dining room tables, drop leaf tables, round, square, triangular.  I have a thing about tables.  It might have to do something with an appreciation of horizontal surfaces on which to put stuff.

So when I had the opportunity to buy one of the communion tables built for the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) I jumped at the chance.  I gave my best doe-eyed look to my husband, and told him we really could use it in the back.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the doe-eyes that won him over, but now it sits in our backyard.

The table was made out of our Pacific Northwest native wood, the Douglas Fir, the Pseudotsuga menziesii .  Its scientific name is derived from the pseudo prefix because the Doug Fir isn’t really a fir tree; the menziesii come from the name Archibald Menzies, who classified the tree before David Douglas, who named the tree after himself.  So you could say the table isn’t what it seems.

I wrote the communion liturgy that was used for one of the services at the table during GA.  The preacher/presider that day chose not to say all the words I wrote; I believe they did not suit, theologically-speaking.  I was a little miffed, to be honest.  But then I remembered it is a table of grace.

The table was transported from the Oregon Convention Center to our home a few miles away because of the strength of many and the generosity of a friend, who provided both muscle and pick up truck.  It is a table of friendship, too.

Its debut at our home was for a potluck dinner for all of us who were on the steering committee that provided hospitality for the General Assembly, and on that beautiful Thursday night, it was laden with wine and lemonade and iced tea and brats and chicken and pork and watermelon and crudites, and laughter, and stories, and gratitude.  It is a table of abundance.

Our child protested the arrival of the table in our small backyard – it takes up space she plays in.  It is a table of inconvenience.

But I love it.  I love where it has been, and who has stood behind it and broken bread and poured the cup.  I love who has gathered around it, and who will gather around it.  It is the holy in the ordinary, and I am reminded that the holy calls me to gracious, and generous, to be a friend.  I am also reminded that, like the table, the holy can be inconvenient at times, nudging us to let go of grudges, to rely on loaves and fishes, to find a way to squeeze one more person in.

It needs another coat of lacquer, according to its builder Michael.  A little care must be given for it to survive the long haul, not unlike all of us.

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The grace of the saints, and they didn’t even know it

easter.lily_Well, Easter is over; at least, Easter Day services are done and it’s “get a latte and put on comfly clothes and maybe take a nap” time.  For all of you who are church people, who in some way did something to help make this morning beautiful, thank you.  Thank you, flower arrangers and communion setters.  Thank you, sound system gal/guy, ushers, van drivers.  Thank you, coffee hour servers who had double duty today.  Thank you, bulletin stuffers and tenors, altos, basses, and sopranos, and organists, and choir directors, and custodians.  Oh, God bless all the custodians.  Thank you egg dyers, and banner makers, and families processing with azaleas and eggs.  Thank you, all you who showed up.  And thank you, all you who celebrated LIFE today.

I was a bit under the weather on Holy Saturday, and tentative about how I would be on Easter.  Admittedly, it was a slow start, but by the time the second service began, it was all good.  The sermon was early in the service, which meant that I got to worship without worrying for the last half.  My colleagues offered a beautiful invitation and beautiful communion prayer.  Our elders helped serve the bread and cup.  And then the saints showed up.

The woman I’ve never seen before carrying up her sleeping toddler.  The woman now using a cane, but by God she was here on Easter despite the recent stroke.  The man who’s mother is dying more quickly than any of us would like.  The person who is still a bit put out with me over a recent unpopular decision, who did not avoid my station but received the bread from me.  The teenager who was just confirmed a few minutes earlier.  The grandpa with his whole family in tow, even though they go to other churches they came with Dad today, because it’s Easter and because they miss their mom who died a few years ago.  Our administrative assistant who makes so much run so smoothly, bringing her mom.  The woman who prays without ceasing for all of us.  My daughter.  Her friend.  The strangers, the leaders, the wondering, the wandering, and the lost.  The saints showed up.

I had one critique after the service, from someone who doesn’t come that often.  She regretted that in my sermon I didn’t mention that Jesus had risen.  I thought I had, but perhaps too obliquely for her.  All the same, whether or not anyone there thought Jesus showed up this morning, spanking-fresh and resurrected, I will tell you this:  the saints showed up this morning.  Thank you all.

And for good measure:  He is risen!  He is risen indeed.

Haunted

Door-AjarToday, after lunch after worship, I went to one of our senior living communities to preside over our monthly communion there.  I love doing that – extending the morning’s table to a group of our saints who can’t make it to the church in the morning.  For some, it’s too hard to physically get into the van that brings them to church, and then too hard to climb even a few stairs.  For others, one hour-ish is just too long to sit in a less than comfortable pew with restrooms too far away.

So we take church to them, gladly.  Two retired clergy who live in this place, and who worship with us regularly, organize the whole thing and I appreciate that.  These two guys could easily play Statler and Waldorf – the old Muppets commentating in the balcony. They love to make cranky observations about church, but I’ve learned as I watch them minister to the saints at communion that you only have to dust off that fine powder of curmudgeon to discover some sweet and compassionate men.

When I arrived at our communion place, which is also where people gather to watch movies and assemble jigsaw puzzles, one of the deacons told me that a regular wasn’t feeling well enough to join the group; could we take communion to her?  Of course.  As we went to her room, we passed one room where a church member recently died.  Farther down the hall, we passed the room where that woman’s husband died a year or so earlier.  Other people now live in those rooms.

It was odd passing those rooms where I spent a few very intense hours as they lay dying.  It’s odd that other people live there now.  It’s odd that those place which were so holy during those dying days are now rooms for another purpose.  Is the holinesss still there?  Or did it leave with the soul of the departed?

After communion I stopped by the hospital to visit another member who has been unconscious in the intensive care unit for ten days now.  She’s another saint of the church.  At 93, she’s been taking French lesson.  As I entered the ICU, I passed by the room where a member was recovering from a stroke.  She has since passed, but I remember the conversations she and I had in that room, and the prayers shared there with family and friends.

So I’m feeling a bit haunted today; haunted by the memory of people who have died, haunted in spaces they inhabited, haunted not so much by their death but by their absence.  It’s odd to feel haunted on the first day of Advent.  Of all the things this season is about, mourning loss or even just remembering it doesn’t quite fit the bill.  It’s a season of light and dark, of portents and hope, of God breaking into the world.  It’s not about our breaking out of the world, or about emptiness.

But maybe it is.  Maybe Advent is about loss, in a way – the loss of the old way of doing things, the loss of the old understanding of how God does things. And maybe it’s a little okay to be haunted by that.

Not an epic fail, but maybe a holy one

this pictures captures what the story was about

this pictures captures what the story was about

Yesterday in my sermon I committed the cardinal sin of pastor-parents: I told a story about my child without getting her permission.  Rookie mistake for this pastor of 20 years, but there you are.  It just fit so well into the sermon, and we had talked about it but in my mind we had not settled the matter.  But as it says in Galatians 6:7 (part of the passage I preached on) “you reap what you sow.”

So I’m in the first third of the sermon; my husband is sitting on the chancel near me and our daughter is sitting by herself in the front pew, as she usually does.  She hears me telling the story and she begins to cry, prostrating herself on the lovely needle-pointed pew cushion, weeping for not all but many to see and hear.  Crap.  Just the word the preacher wants to hear in her head while she is delivering the beautiful word of God.

I can handle a lot in worship.  I can handle crying babies, coughing parishioners, people who live on the streets wandering up and looking at the offering plates, fainters, barfers, organ ciphers, mangled liturgy, and laryngitis, but what absolutely does me in is when I have to be pastor and mom at the same time.  It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I become completely unglued – maybe because I suspect I’m not particularly good at either one, or maybe because it feels like both demand so much of my being.

So in the first third of my sermon, while my daughter is crying, I break the fourth wall of sorts, interrupt myself, and ask my husband to sit with her, which he does.  I then resume preaching, talking about accountability when we do something wrong, and being in community in our suffering, and reconciling with brother or sister before coming to the communion table.  And did I mention we celebrated communion yesterday?

At the end of the sermon, I issued this invitation to the congregation:

“I don’t know if gathered here this morning are people who are at odds with each other; sheer numbers would suggest that there are. I’m not going to ask  that we now pause for a minute for reconciliation – that would be putting all of us on the spot. But perhaps in the silence after the sermon, we might think of those we are at odds with. We might think about them, and about bearing their burden, about carrying our own load, about forgiveness and grace. We might imagine, as we all say the Lord’s Prayer during communion, sitting next to that person, and saying the prayer with them.”

It was so nice of the Holy Spirit to provide me with an opportunity to practice what I preach, and during the silence after the sermon I thought about how I could check in with my daughter before going to the table.  My husband/co-pastor came back up and said she was fine, mostly because one of her friends sweetly came up and sat with her and got her out of her funk.  During communion, my daughter passed by all the other celebrants to come receive the bread from me, and gave me a hug, and I told her I was sorry and I love her so much.

I thought it was a mediocre sermon that was made worse for the wear by my embarrassing my daughter.  As it turns out, what the congregation heard and saw were opportunities for grace, and realness, and empathy, and kindness, and grace again.

But if I ever tell a story about her again, I will get her permission in writing.

The Dinner Party

photo (1)We’re having six lovely people over for dinner tonight, which means that I have been frantic for about three weeks.  This is nothing new.  How do I clean the house, cook the food, look presentable; dust the floorboards, wash the front exterior windows, really clean the hardwood floors in the dining room, find a menu that is tasty and delicious and doable, with the right blend of flavors, textures, and colors, find the time to shower and do something with my mop of hair and remember to put on lipstick; vacuum thecobwebslivingontheceilingswipethehandprintsoffthedoorjambscleanthestainlesssteelappliances makesure iknowifanyguestsareglutenfreeorallergicorhaveastrongpreferenceagainst porkormushrooms orasparagusormakesurethedogstays outofthehouseandshouldiwear askirtorculottesoradressorpants andwhatearringsdoiwearand willanyonenoticei fimwearingmy tennishoes?

Frantic.  Yes.

I do love to have people over for dinner but we haven’t done that much lately.  Or house is smaller than our last one and it gets rather cozy when more than four show up.  Our seven year old tolerates a bunch of grown ups.  And then there’s the puppy, who simply has not understood this week why I do not allow what’s left of Giraffe’s innards to remain in bunches strewn through the house.

I love having people over and I love the fuss.  Because our guests tonight are slightly older than my husband and I, I’m using the good stuff, and it’s a thank-you dinner, so I’m using the good stuff.  I love using the good stuff, because the communion of saints is with me.  Whitney and John gave my the linen tablecloth as a wedding present.  My in-laws gave us their cut glass water glasses.  My parents downsized and gave me back the Waterford votives we gave them for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I’m using our wedding china and crystal for dinner, and my father-in-law’s mother’s china for dessert.

I love having people and I love the fuss – up to a point.  I find myself teetering on the edge of Crazy, and I don’t want to fall off that particular cliff because deep down I know this really is all about hospitality.  Our guest won’t care one whit if there’s a cobweb in the corner, or if one of the puppy’s chew toys is left in the bathroom.  They won’t care if the wine is so-so and food lukewarm. What they will remember is if they felt welcomed, and if there was good conversation, and if we were enjoying ourselves as well.

So during this day of cleaning and chopping and prepping, I’ve been thinking about communion this Sunday.  I think about the women who are so great about making sure the communion cloth is centered, if there is the right number of plates and chalices.  I think about them crowding into our little sacristy, laying out bread pieces and sharing their relief that it’s intinction this month and they don’t have to fill all the little juice glasses. I think about communion as hospitality, knowing that those who come for this particular holy meal probably wouldn’t notice if the tablecloth were off-center or a little stained.  They wouldn’t care if they had to wait a moment while the bread plate was replenished.  What they might remember was that a pastor called them by name, and offered them the bread of life and cup of blessing, and with two small tastes something inside them was sated.

Of course, bread and juice is a lot simpler than pork tenderloin, wild mushroom bread pudding, roasted asparagus, and panna cotta.